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North Korea's nuclear test site becomes a thing of the past

All Headlines 19:41 May 24, 2018

SEOUL, May 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's only known atomic bomb test site has become a thing of the past as the country delivered on its promised first step toward denuclearziation by destroying the facility on Thursday.

The Punggye-ri site in Kilju, North Hamgyong Province, was regarded as one of the most important facilities in its nuclear weapons program, along with the Yongbyon complex. All six of the North's nuclear tests were carried out there, including the latest and most powerful detonation in September.

Surrounded by more than 1,000-meter-high mountains and built into underground granite rocks, experts say that Punggye-ri has the optimal geographic conditions to withstand detonation shocks and reduce the risk of radioactive leaks.

It had four underground tunnels, which were said to have been constructed in order to prevent hazardous gas or debris from rupturing out. Multiple partition walls and locking doors were also installed to minimize risks.

It is said that the North's first nuclear test in 2006 was conducted at the eastern tunnel. It was closed due to radioactive contamination. The second test in 2009 and the third one in 2013 were carried out in the western tunnel. The latest three tests are said to have taken place in the northern tunnels.

The site and its surrounding areas are believed to be significantly contaminated by radioactive materials. Residents living nearby were evacuated as part of precautionary measures when the North conducted a nuclear test.

Since the first nuclear test, the South Korean government and media conveniently named the site after Punggye-ri, the northeastern town where it is located. The North started to call it the "northern underground nuclear site" when announcing its third test.

Experts point to the fact that the North has destroyed its only known nuclear test site as important in and of itself. They also say that its demolition will help forge a positive atmosphere for the much-anticipated summit between North Korea leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump next month.

"The Punggye-ri test site is what the North has used to advance its nuclear capabilities," Chang Cheol-un, a researcher at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Kyungnam University, said. "It should be regarded as a symbolic step of finally submerging the North's nuclear test site."

But skeptics claim the demolition has little substantial effect on the North's nuclear program as Punggye-ri may have already been rendered useless due to repeated blast tests.

Some say that the North has completed its nuclear technology and does not need to conduct tests anymore.

In an apparent bid to demonstrate the demolition to the world, the North invited a group of journalists from South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Britain to the event.


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