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North Korea dismantles nuclear test site

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The Punggye-ri test facility is buried inside a mountain in North Hamgyong province, near the border with China and is North Korea's only known nuclear test site. PHOTO: REUTERS

Seoul

NORTH Korea said it had "completely" dismantled its nuclear test site on Thursday in a carefully choreographed move portrayed by the isolated regime. The move had come hours before US President Trump cancelled his planned summit with President Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

Invited foreign journalists from China, the US, Britain, Russia and South Korea were at the scene described a series of explosions throughout the day, three of them in entry tunnels to the underground facility, followed by blasts that demolished a nearby barracks and other structures at the Punggye-ri test site in the country's northeast.

"There was a huge explosion, you could feel it. Dust came at you, the heat came at you. It was extremely loud," Tom Cheshire, a journalist for Sky News, who was among those invited to attend the ceremony, wrote on the British broadcaster's website.

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The Punggye-ri test facility is buried inside a mountain in North Hamgyong province, near the border with China and is North Korea's only known nuclear test site.

It has been the staging ground for all six of the North's nuclear tests, including its latest and by far most powerful one in September last year, which Pyongyang said was an H-bomb.

In a statement, North Korea's nuclear weapons agency said the site had been dismantled "completely... to ensure transparency of the discontinuance of nuclear test(ing)". South Korea welcomed the move.

"(We) expect it to serve as a chance for complete denuclearisation going forward," Noh Kyu-duk, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters.

Experts are divided over whether the demolition will render the site useless. Sceptics say the facility has already outlived its usefulness with six successful nuclear tests in the bag and can be quickly rebuilt if needed.

North Korea did not invite any independent observers from overseas.

But others say the fact that Pyongyang agreed to destroy the site without pre-conditions and without asking for something in return from Washington suggests the regime is serious about change.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University, said the demolition "cannot be dismissed as a media stunt".

"It is significant that North Korea has backed up its commitment to denuclearisation with concrete action," he told AFP, saying it made the summit more likely. AFP

READ MORE: Trump cancels summit with Kim scheduled for June 12 in Singapore