North Korea shut down its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, Thursday, as what it claims its first step toward denuclearization.
A media group invited from South Korea, the United States, the United Kingdom, China and Russia observed the closure of the site in the northeastern part of the country.
Three of the four tunnels at the site were blown up. The remaining one is deemed impossible for use. Other establishments including observatories, staff accommodation and military facilities were also destroyed.
From Wonsan the reporters took an estimated 12-hour train ride, a four-hour bus ride and two-hour walk to reach the site, traveling over 400 kilometers.
The Punggye-ri site is enclosed by 1,000 meter-high peaks of the Mount Mantap range.
Among the four tunnels at the site, the first is where North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006. It had been abandoned due to radioactive contamination. The second is where the five subsequent tests took place from 2009 to 2017. Tunnels three and four had not been used.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un earlier stressed that “the Punggye-ri site shutdown involves not only tunnels that cannot be used any longer, but also two more tunnels that are larger than those and are in good condition.”
The complete destruction of tunnels three and four were seen as key to the shutdown. An observatory for reporters was set up between the two, according to reports.
It is presumed the tunnels were blown up by creating holes in the bedrock and inserting explosives, as this method minimizes external shock.
This is considered the most appropriate method as the site is suffering “tired mountain syndrome” from the heat and shockwaves of the six underground nuclear tests.
On May 12, North Korea’s foreign ministry stated that it would “blow up all of the site’s tunnels, close down their entrances and then dismantle observatory, research and security facilities.”
It added that with the site’s shutdown, security and research personnel will leave.
The shutdown was conducted despite uncertainty prevailing over the North’s talks with the U.S. on denuclearization.
A summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump has been arranged to take place June 12, but a cloud has been cast over the meeting after Pyongyang took issue with the Max Thunder air force exercises between Seoul and Washington that ended today. North Korea said it regards the drills as a threat to the country’s security and threatened to cancel the summit.
Trump on the sidelines of a meeting with President Moon Jae-in this week stated the summit could be pushed back.