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Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility

  • Location
    Punggye-ri (풍계리), Gilju-gun (길주군), North Hamgyeong Province (함경북도), North Korea
  • Type
    Nuclear-Test Site
  • Facility Status
    Operational

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About

For April 2017 b-roll of the test site, please see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yR_FKpN8Xic&t=5s

The Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility is North Korea’s only nuclear test site and was the location of the 2006, 2009, 2013, January 2016, September 2016, and September 2017 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

Testing

2006 Nuclear Test

On 9 October 2006, North Korea’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

2016 January Nuclear Test

On 6 January 2016, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test at the Punggye-ri facility. 15 This test was recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey as a 5.1 on the Richter scale, about the same magnitude as the 2013 nuclear test. 16 North Korea claimed that this was a hydrogen bomb test, which if true would mark a major advancement of its nuclear program. 17 However, experts were skeptical given that the earthquake caused by the test was approximately the same magnitude as the previous test. 18

2016 September Nuclear Test

On 9 September 2016, North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test at the Punggye-ri facility. 19 The test was recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey as a 5.3 on the Richter scale making it more powerful than any previous North Korea test. 20 Estimates of the test yield placed it between 20 and 30 kilotons. 21

2017 Nuclear Test

On 2 September 2017, North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test at the Punggye-ri facility. 22 The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the test as a 6.3 on the Richter Scale, making it the largest North Korean test to date by far. 23 North Korea claimed that the bomb tested was a two-stage thermonuclear device, claims which many experts consider credible. 24 The USGS has recorded numerous seismic events in the months following the test, thought to be aftershocks from the test event. 25

Glossary

Kiloton
Kiloton: A term used to quantify the energy of a nuclear explosion that is equivalent to the explosion of 1,000 tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT) conventional explosive.
Plutonium (Pu)
Plutonium (Pu): A transuranic element with atomic number 94, produced when uranium is irradiated in a reactor. It is used primarily in nuclear weapons and, along with uranium, in mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. Plutonium-239, a fissile isotope, is the most suitable isotope for use in nuclear weapons.
Highly enriched uranium (HEU)
Highly enriched uranium (HEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of more than 20% of the isotope U-235. Achieved via the process of enrichment. See entry for enriched uranium.
Hydrogen bomb
Hydrogen bomb: See entries for Nuclear weapon and Thermonuclear weapon
Thermonuclear weapon
Thermonuclear weapon: A nuclear weapon in which the fusion of light nuclei, such as deuterium and tritium, leads to a significantly higher explosive yield than in a regular fission weapon. Thermonuclear weapons are sometimes referred to as staged weapons, because the initial fission reaction (the first stage) creates the condition under which the thermonuclear reaction can occur (the second stage). Also archaically referred to as a hydrogen bomb.

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, www.nonproliferation.org; “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. "Statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on the North Korea Nuclear Test," Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 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, 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, 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, www.ctbto.org.
  15. "North Korea nuclear: State claims first hydrogen bomb test,” BBC World News, 6 January 2016, www.bbc.com.
  16. Justin McCurry and Michael Safi, “North Korea claims successful hydrogen bomb test in 'self-defence against US,'” The Guardian, 6 January 2016, www.theguardian.com.
  17. Justin McCurry and Michael Safi, “North Korea claims successful hydrogen bomb test in 'self-defence against US,'” The Guardian, 6 January 2016, www.theguardian.com.
  18. Justin McCurry and Michael Safi, “North Korea claims successful hydrogen bomb test in 'self-defence against US,'” The Guardian, 6 January 2016, www.theguardian.com.
  19. “North Korea claims success in fifth nuclear test,” BBC World News, 9 September 2016, www.bbc.com.
  20. Michael Forsythe, “North Korea’s Nuclear Blasts Keep Getting Stronger,” The New York Times, 9 September 2016, www.nytimes.com.
  21. Jack Kim, “South Korea says North's nuclear capability 'speeding up', calls for action,” Reuters, 11 September 2016, http://uk.reuters.com.
  22. Ted Kemp, “North Korea hydrogen bomb: Read the full announcement from Pyongyang,” CNBC, 3 September 2017, www.cnbc.com.
  23. USGS, “M 6.3 Nuclear Explosion - 21km ENE of Sungjibaegam, North Korea,” 3 September 2017, earthquake.usgs.gov.
  24. Jeffrey Lewis, “Welcome to the Thermonuclear Club, North Korea,” Foreign Policy, 4 September 2017, www.foreignpolicy.com.
  25. “Aftershocks likely from September test detected from North Korea nuclear site: USGS,” Reuters, 9 December 2017, www.reuters.com.

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