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Kim Jong Un’s Nuclear Test Site May Be Down But Not Out

KCNA/via REUTERS

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter

North Korea’s nuclear test site has experienced several post-test tremors since the rogue regime detonated a staged thermonuclear bomb in September.

The occurrence of multiple earthquakes in the aftermath of North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test to date triggered speculation that North Korea may have severely damaged its nuclear test site, possibly rendering it unsuitable for future testing.

North Korea tested a suspected hydrogen bomb in early September, and the bomb is believed to have produced a powerful explosive yield around or potentially well in excess of 250 kilotons. The resulting tremors led some to conclude that Mt. Manhap, where the Punggye-ri test site is located, may be suffering from a case of Tired Mountain Syndrome, a condition in which the rock becomes fractured and permeable as a result of repeated underground nuclear testing.

But, leading experts Frank Pabian and Jack Liu argue in a report for 38 North, a North Korea research and monitoring site, that post-test tremors are not unusual, pointing to the occurrence of such tremors after American nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site.

The two scholars point to a 1969 study, which asserts that “increases in seismic activity in the Nevada region were common following underground nuclear explosions at the US Nevada Test Site,” and some of the post-test earthquakes had magnitudes significantly larger than those of the quakes that followed North Korea’s latest test.

“Despite the numerous post-test earthquakes, the Nevada Test Site was not abandoned for nuclear test purposes,” Pabian and Liu explain, noting that North Korea is unlikely to abandon its Punggye-ri nuclear test site. While there is some evidence that the North Portal may have sustained damage during the most recent nuclear test, there are still two unused tunnel complexes.

38 North researchers actually detected new activity outside the South and West tunnel in the aftermath of the North’s sixth nuclear test.

“For the time being, however, given the presence of additional test portals, we see no reason that the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site as a whole has or will be abandoned for future underground nuclear testing,” Pabian and Liu conclude in their report.

At the same time, North Korea has hinted that it is interested in conducting an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean, but it does not mean the North does not intend to carry out additional underground testing at the Punggye-ri test site.

Pabian and Liu argue that North Korea has not yet nuked itself out of a nuclear test site, as some outlets claimed.

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