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North Korea blows up tunnels at nuclear test site

May 24, 2018

Pyongyang has dismantled its nuclear testing site deep in the mountains of the country's northeast. While foreign journalists were on hand, international inspectors were not invited to witness the event.

The Punggye-ri nuclear test facility
Image: Reuters/2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company

North Korea shuts down nuclear site

North Korea closed and rendered unusable its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where the country conducted all six of its nuclear weapons tests, according to international journalists who witnessed the event. Explosions at the complex on Thursday were carried out over several hours and centered on three tunnels into the underground testing site, nearby towers and barracks used by guards and other workers.

The carefully choreographed move comes as previously announced and despite doubts cast on whether a summit of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump will go ahead as planned. Questions have been raised about the June 12 meeting in Singapore after a series of sharp verbal exchanges between the two countries.

Earlier on Thursday, North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui called comments from US Vice President Mike Pence "ignorant and stupid." Pence said North Korea could end up like Libya, which found itself in a civil war and its leader killed after giving up its nuclear weapons.

Trump's new national security advisor, John Bolton, also said last week that the US was considering the "Libya model" for North Korean denuclearization. Washingon has also insisted on complete, verifiable and "irreversible denuclearization." 

The decision to shutter the site was welcomed, but by not allowing international experts to observe the facility's destruction the question of how much effort it might take to reopen or rebuild the site remains.

Geologists said the site had become unstable after a series of earthquakes in September 2017 that Pyongyang said was triggered by a hydrogen bomb explosion. Kim said in April that North Korea would halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Read more: Will Trump and Kim hash out 'something like the Iran deal'? ​​​​​​

sms/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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