North Korea on Thursday blew up its nuclear test site in Punggye-ri as reporters from five countries looked on. But the North did not allow experts to inspect the site.
North Korea blew up tunnels Nos. 2, 3 and 4 from 11 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. The No. 1 tunnel was already shut down after the North conducted its first nuclear test in October of 2006 due to radioactive contamination. The North also blew up two observation towers as well as five facilities and two military barracks.
North Korea in a statement said the event would "ensure transparency of discontinuance of the nuclear test.
But the statement failed to mollify U.S. President Donald Trump, who the same day canceled a planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, partly because he was incensed by recent belligerent rhetoric from the North.
Earlier, North Korea reneged on a promise to allow nuclear experts to observe the shutdown.
The event meant a grueling 15-hour trek for global reporters used to being safely plonked in front of a building to say their piece to camera.
A North Korean official briefed the foreign reporters at around 11 a.m. asking them if they were ready to film the event. When they said yes, a countdown began before a huge explosion occurred.
Sky News correspondent Tom Cheshire said, "We hiked up into the mountains and watched the detonation from about 500 meters away. 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 cabin made out of wood to complete smithereens."
CNN correspondent Will Ripley "described seeing 'soccer ball' sized and shaped explosives, rigged alongside one another, visible for a distance of around 35 meters inside the tunnels."
Reporters said the blast shook the 2,205 m Mt. Mantap, while debris was thrown everywhere. North Korea claimed that two of the shafts were confirmed by foreign journalists to have been in a usable state prior to the explosion.
But not everyone was convinced. CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reported, "While satellite images show the regime has already begun dismantling the site, outside scientists say it was no longer usable after the last test in September. Critics call Kim's pledge to now close it an empty gesture and not a real concession."
South Korea said North Korea's shutdown of the Punggye-ri test site was a "first step" toward complete denuclearization.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk expressed hope that the shutdown "will offer the momentum for complete denuclearization," but Seoul's euphoria was quelled by Trump's cancellation of the summit.
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