According to commercial satellite photos analyzed by an American based North Korea watchdog, Kim Jong Un’s regime has begun tunnel excavations in another portion of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.  Tunnel collapses beneath the mountain claimed the lives of an estimated 200 people following North Korea’s September test of a what was believed to be a hydrogen bomb, and experts from around the globe have voiced concerns that the mountain itself may collapse if subjected to any further testing.

The new tunnel digging efforts appear to be concentrated at the facility’s West Portal, while the North Portal, where the five most recent of North Korea’s six total nuclear tests were conducted, remains all but abandoned.  This would seem to indicate an effort to dig a new testing chamber suitable for further weapons development.

This includes a routine presence of vehicles and personnel around the portal, movement of mining carts from the portal to the adjacent spoil pile and signs of fresh spoil being dumped onto the pile. These activities suggest that tunnel excavation is underway at the West Portal, as the North Koreans expand the site’s potential for future nuclear testing.” Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. and Jack Liu describe in their analysis for 38 North.

After the last nuclear test, which took place on September 3rd, the mountain that sits atop the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, Mt. Mantap, visibly shifted.  The detonation, which experts agree was likely North Korea’s first ever hydrogen bomb, produced a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that was felt throughout the region.  The impending aftershocks are believed to have caused the tunnel collapse near the North Portal of the facility.  The initial collapse trapped as many as a hundred people beneath the rubble, and tragically, as more than a hundred rescuers attempted to find survivors, a subsequent tremor caused another collapse, trapping and killing the rescue workers as well.

Based on the severity of the initial blast, the post-test tremors, and the extent of observable surface disturbances, we have to assume that there must have been substantial damage to the existing tunnel network under Mount Mantap,” Frank V. Pabian and Jack Liu wrote in an analysis from October.

Chinese scientists have warned that further testing at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site could result in a total collapse of the mountain itself.  That would mean disaster not only for the personnel working in the tunnel system, but for the entire region.  Such a collapse would undoubtedly release a great deal of radioactive particulate into the atmosphere, leading to widespread radiation sickness among the North Korean people, and potentially even into neighboring countries like China.

After the launch of North Korea’s most advanced and powerful ICBM to date late last month, it’s clear that Kim Jong Un has no intentions of surrendering his nuclear ambitions in the name of diplomacy, even as increasing sanctions continue to ravage his nation’s economy.  North Korean fishing boats have been washing up on Japanese shores with increasing frequency in recent months, as desperate fishermen venture further into dangerous waters in small wooden boats in search of a plentiful bounty.  Even one of Kim’s border guards, usually the best fed and equipped in the nation, proved to be near starved and riddled with parasites upon his defection last month, begging serious questions about the conditions North Koreans are living in outside the view of UN and South Korean border guards at the DMZ.