North Korea's only nuclear test site is located in the mountainous northern region of the country
North Korea has started dismantling its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, according to satellite pictures analysed by experts. The move comes weeks ahead of a historic meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump during which the two countries will talk about denuclearisation. A group of researchers from 38 North, an organisation dedicated to analysis of North Korean affairs, compared satellite images from April 20 with pictures taken on May 7. The images show several buildings near all four entrance tunnels have been completely or partially demolished. South Korea's military said on Tuesday that Pyongyang was moving ahead with plans to close its nuclear test site, according to the Associated Press news agency. Roh Jae-cheon, spokesman for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said South Korea's military had seen signs that North Korea is conducting "preparatory work" so that it can carry out its plans to shut down its northeastern testing ground. He did not specify what the military had seen. According to the report published on the group's website, North Korea has also removed some of the mining cart rails used to access the underground part of the site, which is based in the mountainous northern region of North Korea. But not all buildings have been demolished yet, the researchers concluded. "Other more substantial buildings around the facility remain intact, including the two largest buildings at the Command Center, and the Main Administrative Support Area," the researchers wrote. "Moreover, no tunnel entrances appear to have yet been permanently closed," they added.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged to close the site during a landmark summit last month with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Prior to Kim's meeting with Moon, the North Korean leader announced on April 21 that all nuclear and missile tests were to be suspended, saying the Punggye-ri site had "finished its mission" after completing its nuclear programme. But days later, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported that the facility had collapsed, threatening an "unprecedented risk" of radioactive fallout. The newspaper said the Punggye-ri site, situated near Mount Mantap in northeastern North Korea, was "wrecked" beyond repair by a landslide. It suggested the incident "may" have been the reason for Kim's announcement of a suspension in testing. Six nuclear tests - including North Korea's most powerful test to date in September 2017 - have been carried out at the facility since Pyongyang began experiments in 2006. The closure comes shortly before a planned meeting between Kim and Trump in Singapore on June 12.