Fresh satellite images indicate that activity has resumed at North Korea’s nuclear test site, U.S. analysts said Tuesday, amid fears the reclusive nation may soon conduct its sixth atomic test.
In a report by the 38 North website, images of the Punggye-ri nuclear test facility taken April 25 showed that the pumping of water from the site’s north portal — where the North has apparently been preparing to conduct an atomic test — had been restarted “to maintain an optimal environment for instrumentation and stemming.”
Removing the water from the tunnel is presumably done to keep it dry for monitoring or communications equipment.
The analysis by the website, a project of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, also highlighted the large number of personnel present at various locations throughout the site, which it said was “unusual” and likely part of a propaganda push by the North amid widespread media speculation over the country’s nuclear program.
“The presence of a large number of people dispersed throughout the facility in the latest image … is unusual and almost assuredly a component of an overall North Korean deception and propaganda effort,” 38 North said Tuesday.
Personnel at several areas at the test site appeared to be engaging in a game of volleyball, a popular sport in North Korea.
An analysis last month of the site had similarly spotted groups playing volleyball.
That had left analysts wondering whether the North Koreans were engaging in an act of deception, since they are thought to know when commercial satellites that take such images fly overhead.
On Monday, Pyongyang said it would carry out a nuclear test “at any time and at any location” set by its leadership.
However, the website cautioned that predicting if a nuclear test was forthcoming remained a guessing game.
“Based on satellite imagery alone, it is unclear if this activity indicates that a nuclear test has been cancelled, the facility is in stand-by mode or that a test is imminent,” it said.
A sixth nuclear test by the North would come amid a flurry of activity by the nuclear-armed country as it seeks to master the technology needed to mount an atomic weapon on a long-range ballistic missile capable of striking the continental United States.
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