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Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility

Last Modified: Feb. 12, 2013
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 in South Korean press as the South Entrance, East Entrance and West Entrance.[2] Since the 2006 nuclear test, numerous satellite images have revealed on-going construction, excavation, and movement at the facility, most recently around the area of the south and west tunnels.[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 between 3.56 to 4.9 on the Richter scale.[5] The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) estimated the yield at less than one kiloton.[6] U.S. officials later confirmed that the test was conducted using plutonium from the 5 MW reactor at Yongbyon.[7] The test took place in the East Tunnel approximately 1 km NE from the entrance. The overburden is estimated at 310 m.[8]

2009 Nuclear Test

North Korea tested a second nuclear device at the Punggye-ri facility on 25 May 2009.[9] The U.S. Geological Survey estimated the seismic activity generated from the test at a magnitude of 4.7 on the Richter scale.[10] 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). 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

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] No information is available on noble gas detection yet, though it is possible they will first be detected by Takasaki station in the days following the test. The U.S. Air Force also mans a WC-135 Constant Phoenix out of Kadena Air Base which can detect radionuclides. Initial estimates put the test at 8-12 kilotons, roughly double the 2009 test yield. While it is likely the test took place in the West Tunnel, the CTBTO put its margin of error for the epicenter at 16.2 km².[14]

South Tunnel

Commercial satellite images taken in 2012 and 2013 showed activity outside the entrance to the southern-most tunnel entrance.[15] From outward appearances the tunnel is ready for a test, although it experienced flooding damage in 2012.[16]

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] Jeong Jae Sung, “Nuclear Test Evidence Piling Up in Pungye,” DailyNK, 9 April 2012, www.dailynk.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.
[4] Ken Dilanian, “N. Korea's Failed Missile Raises Alarms; The New Regime's Embarrassment May Lead to a Nuclear Test, Experts Say. The U.S. Cancels Food Aid,” The Los Angeles Times, 14 April 2012, www.latimes.com.
[5] “DPRK Successfully Conducts Underground Nuclear Test,” Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), 9 October 2006, www.kcna.co.jp.
[6] Anthony Faiola, Glenn Kessler and Dafna Linzer, “N. Korea Claims Nuclear Test,” The Washington Post, October 9, 2006, www.washingtonpost.com.
[7] 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.
[8] 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.
[9] Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger, “North Korean Fuel Identified as Plutonium,” The New York Times, 17 October 2006, www.nytimes.com.
[10] “KCNA Report on One More Successful Underground Nuclear Test,” Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), 25 May 2009, www.kcna.co.jp.
[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] David E. Sanger and Choe Sang-hun, "North Korea Confirms It Conducted 3rd Nuclear Test," New York Times, 12 February 2013, www.nytimes.com.
[13] "M5.1 - 23km ENE of Sungjibaegam, North Korea," U.S. Geological Survey, 12 February 2013, http://earthquake.usgs.gov.
[14] "On the CTBTO's Detection in North Korea," Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, 12 February 2013, http://www.ctbto.org.
[15] David Albright and Robert Avagyan, "Monitoring Activity at Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site," ISIS Reports, 3 February 2013, http://isis-online.org.
[16] David Albright and Robert Avagyan, "Monitoring Activity at Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site," ISIS Reports, 3 February 2013, http://isis-online.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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