North Korea began dismantling nuke test site buildings earlier this week despite diplomatic snags in the journey to denuclearization. North Korea originally told South Korean leaders of their plan to tear down the site, but Californian science and satellite imaging company Planet Labs, Inc., confirmed active changes while monitoring the Punggye-ri testing zone.
• Satellite imagery shows clear signs of missing buildings, trucks working in the area, and altered landscaping. This includes well-known, previously-identified nuclear testing equipment and buildings.
• So far, North Korea hasn’t attempted to enter the testing zone, where radiation poisoning may be a serious risk. They appear to be tackling buildings outside of the testing area first, slowly stripping back engineering offices, air compressors used to pump air into the test site, and other peripherals.
• There seems to be little information about what NK military leaders will do with the retired nuclear materials, including radioactive isotopes. Foreign leaders have questioned the tiny country’s ability to safely denuclearize, suggesting they cannot safely dispose of it.
• North Korean leaders have said they plan to “implode” the mountain tunnels used for testing purposes, locking radioactive materials deep within the mountain. They will also remove observation facilities and other underground structures.
• Whether or not this will be effective is open to debate. There is evidence that the mountain testing site may have been leaking for some time; imploding it could effectively seal it off, but may also create more leaks. Such leaks could potentially impact health and safety in North Korea, China, and other neighboring countries.
• Not everyone believes North Korea’s attempt at denuclearization is legitimate. Some leaders believe the current changes are little more than a panache designed to shift attention and satisfy American leaders. “North Korea might seem like they’re being generous in holding this event, but this is the actual testing ground we’re talking about here – The smoking gun,” Suh Kune-yull, a professor at Seoul National University, explains.
• Kune-yull believes the event may be an attempt at deception. “It seems like they’re trying to erase any evidence of the nuclear capabilities they have.” His statement comes just after North Korean leaders cancelled peace talks with the south and threatened to cancel a summit with Trump.