Did North Korea Actually Dismantle Its Nuclear Test Site? Experts Aren't Convinced

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Command post facilities of North Korea's nuclear test site are exploded in Punggye-ri, North Korea on Thursday, May 24, 2018.
Korea Pool/Yonhap/Associated Press

North Korea says it has destroyed its only nuclear test site — but it's difficult to verify whether it actually did, given that experts have not been permitted to analyze the location.


Pyongyang did allow a small group of journalists into North Korea to witness what it said was the destruction of the Punggye-ri test site last week, but these people lack the expertise to discern whether the site is indeed unusable.

At the moment, the only evidence available is images and video footage taken by these journalists. Experts say that's not enough to verify that the site is no longer usable and that it was most likely why North Korea allowed only journalists at the event.

"I can't tell much from these pictures, which, of course, is the reason for journalists only," Jimmie Oxley, a professor at the University of Rhode Island who's an expert on explosives, told Business Insider of photos from the event.

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Cheshire said in a tweet that he asked a North Korean official how he could tell the test site was fully destroyed. "He said we had seen with our own eyes the sort of explosion produced," Cheshire said, adding that many questions about verification remain unanswered.

"With this test site ... a lot of this was very deliberately there for journalists," Cheshire told Sky News, adding: "We definitely saw the tunnel entrances collapse, but it's impossible to say what happened beyond that."

He emphasized that North Koreans are "masters of imagery," leaving a great deal of room for skepticism about the destruction of the nuclear test site.

In other words, some are saying North Korea may have made it seem as though it destroyed the test site but could easily make it operational again if it desired.

The Trump-Kim summit could still happen

In explaining why President Donald Trump canceled a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Trump administration last week said North Korea broke a major promise in not allowing experts to come in to verify the test site's destruction.

There were signs on Friday that the summit — previously set for June 12 in Singapore — could be salvaged, but many details remain up in the air.

Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea's vice foreign minister, on Friday released a statement through state-run media saying his country's government was willing "to sit down face-to-face with the US and resolve issues anytime and in any format."

Meanwhile, Trump told reporters: "We'll see what happens. It could even be the 12th. We're talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We'd like to do it. We're going to see what happens."

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