Satellite photos taken from North Korea’s testing facility have analysts worried that the country could be planning to resume testing atomic bombs, despite claiming to have destroyed the site in 2018.
The images were captured by the commercial satellite firm Maxar and analyzed by the James Martin Center for the Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Stories over the weekend, NBC News reports.
Jeffrey Lewis of the Martin Center, who led the examination, told NBC News that the satellite photos indicate early signs of activity at the Punggyeri test site, referring to the activities as “very preliminary.”
Analysts believe they spotted numerous changes, including the construction of a new building, which may serve as first examples of work at the site since its tunnels were supposedly blown up on a video shared by North Korea in May 2018.
Only a small number of journalists were invited to witness the demolition of the test sites and claimed to have seen a series of explosions that sealed the tunnel entrances and destroyed some buildings at the time of the reports, though others questioned whether the demonstration was legitimate.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced an end to nuclear explosives testing and tests of intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles one month prior to the reported demonstration as part of a diplomatic initiative between himself and then-President Donald Trump, an initiative that eventually fell apart.
In January, the North Korean government announced its intention to “make an overall reconsideration of the confidence-building measures that we have taken on our own initiative and on a prior basis [and] promptly examine the issue of restarting all temporarily-suspended activities,” NBC News reports.
Lewis confirmed analysts have since “been monitoring the Punggye-ri nuclear test site closely for signs that North Korea was beginning to repair the site.”
“In the image, we see very early signs of activity at the new site, including construction of a new building, repair of another building and what is possibly some lumber and sawdust,” Lewis told NBC News. “North Korea uses a substantial amount of wood at the site both for buildings and shoring up tunnels. These changes occurred only in the past few days.”
Lewis has been tracking North Korea’s nuclear program for years and said “we often catch construction ctivities in their very early stages, when it is difficult to conclude what precisely is being built or why,” but added, “his is the first activity we have seen at the site since North Korea dismantled it in May 2018.”