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Images Reveal New Tunnels at North Korean Nuclear Testing Grounds

Recent satellite photographs show signs that two new tunnels are being constructed at North Korea's nuclear testing grounds in a likely sign the country is planning to carry out more underground atomic explosions in the future, the expert website 38 North said in a Wednesday report.

Surveillance photographs taken as recently as Sept. 27 show digging work and expanding piles of soil at the "West Portal" of the Punggye-ri test site -- where the North detonated its two most-recent nuclear test devices in 2009 and 2013 -- as well as at the "South Portal," 38 North image expert Nick Hansen concluded in an analysis. The digging could signal preparation for future nuclear tests or that Pyongyang wants to create a backup entrance to an existing tunnel in order to improve air flow or traffic.

"There are no signs that Pyongyang plans to conduct a nuclear test in the immediate future," Hansen wrote. "However, these ongoing activities as well as upgrades to the site's support areas indicate North Korea is preparing to conduct additional detonations in the future as part of its nuclear weapons development program."

In late July, 38 North -- a project of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University -- said it had detected signs of significant excavation work at the West Portal area. On Wednesday, the website said further analysis of the digging work is necessary to better understand what is happening, noting it could take up to one to two years for the North to fully excavate individual new tunnels.

At the same time, North Korea evidently is expanding its nuclear testing grounds, Pyongyang is reaching out to other governments to assess interest in resuming long-frozen multinational aid-for-denuclearization negotiations. The United States is a member of these talks but has said it will not return to them until Pyongyang pursues steps to take apart its nuclear weapons program.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry on Wednesday indicated the country would not take any kind of actions to end its nuclear weapons work until the United States pursued "simultaneous" steps toward discarding perceived antagonistic policies, the New York Times reported.

"Action for action is the basic principle for resolving the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, and we will never move first unilaterally," a ministry spokesman said in a statement disseminated by state-media. "We want peace and stability and demand the end of U.S. hostile policy, but we never beg for them."

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