North Korea announced Thursday the closure of its nuclear test site after a series of large detonations.
North Korean state media confirms that it dismantled its nuclear test site by exploding the tunnels. Full statement here. pic.twitter.com/h1EIdJ8Utm
— Laura Bicker (@BBCLBicker) May 24, 2018
The explosions, set off at numerous locations within the Punggye-ri site, were carried out in front of journalists from the United States, Britain, South Korea, Russia and China.
According to an Associated Press television crew on the scene, the first blast collapsed the north tunnel, where North Korea carried out five of its six nuclear tests, at roughly 11 a.m. local time.
The west and south tunnels were similarly destroyed at 2:20 p.m. and 4 p.m. while as many as 10 buildings including observation posts and a metal foundry were demolished as well.
CNN journalist Will Ripley reported that the media was shown the entrance to the tunnels, allegedly packed with explosives, before each detonation took place.
“They let us go up to three different tunnels, they opened the door… they were very dark,” Ripley said. “We weren’t allowed to go inside the tunnels, but we saw, essentially, explosives as far as we could see down into the tunnels.”
CNN’s @willripleyCNN has just witnessed the destruction of a North Korean nuclear test site at Punggye-ri – he says that around ten other buildings were blown up too https://t.co/OqcmVhTDor pic.twitter.com/wD9nSQHrjr
— CNN International (@cnni) May 24, 2018
Sky News reporter Tom Cheshire also described the event and the detonation of an observation tower.
“They counted it down — three, two, one,” Cheshire said. “There was a huge explosion, you could feel it. Dust came at you, the heat came at you. It was extremely loud. It blew an observation tower to complete smithereens.”
North Korea announced last month that it had “realized nuclear weaponization” and no longer needed the test site following last year’s successful test of a thermonuclear weapon.
While Punggye’ri’s closure is being seen as a positive step ahead, some analysts allege the event, which did not allow international experts, may have been used to conceal clues surrounding Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities.
“There were no international experts in the invited group and no one was present who was able to assess the explosions in order to tell if they were deep enough to destroy the tunnels,” CNN reported.
British and Chinese journalists who attempted to bring in devices used to detect nuclear radiation reportedly had them confiscated at North Korea’s Wonsan airport.
Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, also argued this week that North Korea’s gesture is not concrete enough to ensure no future tests take place.
“Self-declared moratoria are not good enough,” Zerbo said at the Royal Institute for International Relations. “The DPRK’s recent moves are a step forward but do not permanently prevent it from resuming nuclear tests in the future. Nothing except adherence to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty can achieve this goal.”
Skeptics also point to 2008 when Pyongyang invited journalists to witness the destruction of a cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear weapons complex. North Korea claimed at the time that the detonation proved its willingness to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
Punggye-ri’s closure comes as the future of U.S.-North Korean relations remain uncertain following Trump’s decision to cancel the June 12 summit.
Trump cited Pyongyang’s “anger and open hostility,” the result of White House threats toward the Kim regime, as reasoning behind the cancellation.
Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have threatened North Korea with a fate similar to Libya, which resulted in the U.S.-backed overthrow and brutal murder of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, if the country refuses to denuclearize up front.
North Korea has stated it has no interest in unilateral denuclearization and added this week that it was prepared for either a meeting or a nuclear showdown.