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Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility

Last Modified: May 26, 2015
Other Name: 풍계리 핵실험 시설; North Korean Nuclear Test Site; P'unggye-yok Test Site (풍계역 실험장); Hamgyeongbuk-do Test Site (함경북도 실험장); Mount Mantap Test Site (만탑산 실험장)
Location: Punggye-ri (풍계리), Gilju-gun (길주군), North Hamgyeong Province (함경북도), North Korea
Subordinate To: Unknown
Size: A sprawling facility with three known tunnel entrances and multiple support buildings
Facility Status: Operational

The Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility is North Korea’s only nuclear test site and was the host of the 2006, 2009, and 2013 nuclear tests.[1] The facility is located in mountainous terrain with three visible tunnel entrances known as the South Portal, East Portal, and West Portal.[2] Since the 2006 nuclear test, numerous satellite images have revealed on-going construction, excavation, and movement at the facility prior to testing.[3]

2006 Nuclear Test

On 9 October, the DPRK’s KCNA reported that the country had “successfully conducted a nuclear test” at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility.[4] The test used a horizontal-shaft, and the shock is estimated to be magnitude 4.3. [5] The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) estimated the yield at less than one kiloton.[6] The test took place in the East Tunnel approximately 1 km NE from the entrance. The overburden is estimated at 310 m.[7]

2009 Nuclear Test

North Korea tested a second nuclear device at the Punggye-ri facility on 25 May 2009.[8] The U.S. Geological Survey estimated the seismic activity generated from the test at a magnitude of 4.7.[9] This time no noble gases were detected from the explosion, meaning scientists could not definitely say whether the explosion used plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU).[10] The test is estimated at about 4-6 kilotons, and was detonated in the West Tunnel at about 1.2 km NW from the tunnel entrance. The overburden is estimated at 490 m.[11]

2013 Nuclear Test

On 12 February 2013, North Korea conducted a third nuclear test at the Punggye-ri facility.[12] This test was recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey as 5.1 on the Richter scale.[13] Xenon-131m and Xe-133 were detected at CTBTO’s radionuclide detection stations in Japan and Russia 55 days after the explosion, but were too degraded by the time it was detected to indicate whether the device had used plutonium or HEU.[14]

South Tunnel

The South Portal has yet to be used. Recent commercial satellite imagery showed vehicular activities, construction, the clearing of soil and lumber outside the entrance to the southern-most tunnel entrance.[15] 

Sources:
[1] “Factfile: Underground Nuclear Testing,” BBC World News, 26 May 2009, www.bbc.co.uk; David E. Sanger and Choe Sang-hun, "North Korea Confirms It Conducted 3rd Nuclear Test," New York Times, 12 February 2013, www.nytimes.com.
[2] “North Korea Uncovered- (Google Earth),” North Korea Economy Watch, Version 18, Released 25 June 2009, www.nkeconwatch.com.
[3] Paul Brannan, “Satellite Imagery of North Korean Nuclear Test Site Shows Growth in Pile of Material Near Test Shaft ; Unclear if Nuclear Test Will Follow,” ISIS Reports, 10 April 2012, http://isis-online.org; “FAQ: North Korea's Possible Nuclear Test,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 27 April 2012, http://cns.miis.edu; “North Korean Nuclear Test Preparations: An Update,” 38 North, 27 April 2012, http://38north.org; David Albright and Robert Avagyan, "Monitoring Activity at Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site," ISIS Reports, 3 February 2013, http://isis-online.org; Jack Liu and Nick Hansen, “North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: No Sign of Test Preparations,” 38 North, 16 January 2015, http://38north.org.
[4] “DPRK Successfully Conducts Underground Nuclear Test,” Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), 9 October 2006, www.kcna.co.jp.
[5] “Magnitude 4.3- North Korea,” U.S. Geological Survey, 9 October 2006, www.earthquake. usgs.gov.
[6] Office of the Director of National Intelligence, "Statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on the North Korea Nuclear Test," 11 October 2009, www.dni.gov.
[7] Frank V. Pabian and Siegfried S. Hecker, "Contemplating a Third Nuclear Test in North Korea," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 6 August 2012, http://www.thebulletin.org.
[8] “KCNA Report on One More Successful Underground Nuclear Test,” Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), 25 May 2009, www.kcna.co.jp.
[9] "Magnitude 4.7 - NORTH KOREA," U.S. Geological Survey, 25 May 2009, www.earthquake. usgs.gov.
[10] "Experts Sure about the Nature of the DPRK Event," Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, 12 June 2015, www.ctbto.org
[11] Frank V. Pabian and Siegfried S. Hecker, "Contemplating a Third Nuclear Test in North Korea," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 6 August 2012, http://www.thebulletin.org.
[12] "KCNA Report on Successful 3rd Underground Nuclear Test," Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), 12 February 2013, www.kcna.co.jp.
[13] "M5.1 - 23km ENE of Sungjibaegam, North Korea," U.S. Geological Survey, 12 February 2013, http://earthquake.usgs.gov.
[14] “Detection of Radioactive Gases Consistent with North Korean Test Underlines Strength of CTBTO Monitoring System,” Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, 20 July 2013, http://www.ctbto.org.
[15] David Albright and Robert Avagyan, "Monitoring Activity at Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site," ISIS, 3 February 2013, http://isis-online.org; Jeffrey Lewis, “The Tunnels at Punggye-ri: An Alternative View, 38 North, 20 March 2014, www.38north.org; Jack Liu, “No Sign of Preparations for an Impending Nuclear Test at North Korea’s Punggye-ri,” 38 North, 10 December 2014, www.38north.org; Nick Hansen and Jack Liu, “Why a Nuclear Test May Not Be Imminent: Update on North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site,” 38 North, 13 May 2014, www.38north.org.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

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