North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Much Ado in Kilchu County?

Satellite imagery  shows possible construction activity in Kilchu County, North Hamgyong, near the location of the DPRK’s May 2009 nuclear test.  According to a Jane’s analysis of images taken over several days in October 2010, the movement of vehicles, personnel and debris suggested the construction of a tunnel.

Korea Herald reports:

An increasing number of reports and satellite imageries are confirming suspicious activities near the site where North Korea had conducted its second atomic test, sparking concerns among regional powers.

A Japanese government official said a nuclear test “could happen any time, given the situation,” the country’s Kyodo News reported Thursday, the strongest comment yet coming from either the Seoul or Tokyo governments.

South Korea, which is technically still at war with the North as their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, has so far downplayed the possibility of a nuclear test by Pyongyang, while “maintaining close observation,” according to Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan.

The unnamed Tokyo official “acknowledged new activities such as construction of new tunnels” at the Punggyeri area, the main site of Pyongyang’s previous atomic tests in 2009, according to Kyodo.

“The timing cannot be specified, but a nuclear test could happen any time,” the official said.

Shortly after walking from the multinational negotiations aimed at its denuclearization, North Korea conducted a second nuclear test in May 2009 by tunneling into the Punggyeri site’s terrain and sealing the testing material inside the mountain.

An intelligence official in Seoul also said last month “consistent traffic of people and vehicles has been detected” around the site.

Experts elsewhere have also been voicing concerns, citing satellite images and confirmations by Pyongyang officials.

The possibility of tunnel construction came after the announcement that the DPRK intends to construct a light-water at Yongbyon.   Yonhap reports:

“What they told us is that they are building a light-water reactor at Yongbyon,” Pritchard said. “Physically, it is slightly in front of where the old cooling tower was located. We observed for ourselves the relatively early stage.”

North Koreans want to complete the construction of a 100-megawatt light-water reactor that “will only provide enough electricity for the immediate area of Yongbyon… by 2012,” Prichard said.

“Everything under construction in Pyongyang has a due date for the final construction of 2012 on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung,” said Pritchard, who has made 13 visits to North Korea. “Quite frankly, we are skeptical.”

Pyongyang has set 2012 as the target year for the country to become a “great, powerful and prosperous nation.”

Pritchard estimated the size of the reactor being built at “probably 70 to 75 foot square” and “60 or so feet in diameter.”

He described the reactor as being “one tenth the size that was originally being built at Kumho-Sinpo area in North Korea by the Korean Peninsula Development Organization (KEDO).”

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This article was written on 21 Nov 2010, and is filled under Central Committee, Korean Workers' Party (KWP), National Defense Commission (NDC), Second Economic Committee, Secretariat.

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