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North Korea Builds New Tunnels at Nuclear Test Site, Report Says

The Punggye-ri site in North Korea
Image of the Punggye-ri site in North Korea. Source: DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images

North Korea has built two new tunnel entrances at its atomic test site in a sign the Kim Jong Un regime is preparing future underground blasts to bolster its nuclear arsenal, a report says.

The entrances were identified in the west and south of the Punggye-ri site in the northeast where the North has conducted three underground tests since 2006, the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies said today in an e-mail, citing satellite images.

“These ongoing activities as well as upgrades to the site’s support areas indicate North Korea is preparing to conduct additional detonations in the future as part of its nuclear weapons development program,” the U.S. institute said.

Efforts to restart international disarmament talks with North Korea remain stalled as Kim refuses U.S. and South Korean demands that the country first show signs of rolling back its weapons development. Instead, North Korea has been stepping up its arms program, holding its third nuclear test in February followed by a threat in March of first strikes against the U.S. and South Korea. South Korea’s intelligence chief confirmed this month the North had restarted its main nuclear reactor.

While the North said after the February test that it had succeeded in making its nuclear bombs smaller and lighter, the U.S. administration contends the North hasn’t mastered the technology to deliver nuclear bombs on long-range missiles.

The Johns Hopkins institute said it sees no signs of an immediate nuclear test. The findings coincide with a statement from the North’s Foreign Ministry yesterday that the country would “not be bound to anything” that prevents it from bolstering its nuclear deterrent to deal with what it calls U.S. hostility.

The entrances at Punggye-ri indicate the North is planning to drill additional tunnels for future nuclear tests or trying to facilitate traffic or ventilation of existing ones, the institute said.

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