April 23, 2018 13:32
North Korea on Friday announced a plan to close down its nuclear test site ahead of summits with South Korea and the U.S., but the site is in fact already unusable.
As a result of the six nuclear tests from 2006 until last September, experts believe the Punggye-ri test site is now so unsafe and the ground so unstable that no further tests can be conducted there.
Although the granite of Mt. Mantap, where the tunnels were dug for nuclear tests, is still stable, many tunnels caved in and there have been several alarming aftershocks.
Some 200 people died when a tunnel collapsed during construction after the sixth nuclear test, Asahi TV reported last November.
Prof. Hong Tae-kyung of Yonsei University said, "A total of 10 earthquakes over magnitude 2.5, which were believed to have resulted from the collapse of tunnels, were detected near the test site until February this year."
"We're analyzing an intelligence report that there are also fears about the possible collapse of, or a radiation leak from, tunnels Nos. 3 and 4, in case of another nuclear test," a military source here said.
Prof. Nam Sung-wook of Korea University said, "The Punggye-ri site is like a useless sacrificial stone in a baduk or go game. The North isn't really giving up anything of value."
In a similar gesture, the North in 2007 blew up a cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear facility, but it restarted the reactor soon after and kept carrying out nuclear tests.
The offer to suspend its long-range ballistic missile launches is also no great sacrifice since the North's coffers are running dry amid international sanctions. Each launch of an ICBM costs US$20 to 30 million, and the regime may no longer be able to afford that.
Meanwhile, a 2.3-magnitude earthquake occurred in Kilju, North Hamgyong Province early Monday morning, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration here. The epicenter is closed to the Punggye-ri test site.
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