Satellite imagery shows North Korea dismantling facilities at its nuclear test site, but experts say the images can’t reveal whether it is the first step toward full denuclearization, or an attempt to cloak nuclear capabilities from outside observers.
North Korea’s intentions were thrown further into doubt on Wednesday, when it abruptly announced it may “reconsider” meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in June if the United States continues to insist on unilateral denuclearization.
Commercial satellite imagery – including photos taken by Planet Labs as recently as May 14 – show North Korea removing some structures around its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, experts say.
“So far it looks like the surface-level support structures are being dismantled,” said Scott LaFoy, an open source imagery analyst. “This would be consistent with the site being closed, as you need engineers and working teams on-site to prepare and maintain the site.”
Among the facilities that appear to have been razed are an engineering office, as well as buildings housing the air compressor used to pump air into the tunnels where the bombs were detonated, said non-proliferation expert Frank Pabian.
LaFoy said North Korea’s actions so far are “not necessarily nefarious,” but that it does raise some “red flags” about complete permanent denuclearization.