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Activity at North Korean nuclear test site seen for first time since 2018, report says

Activity at North Korean nuclear test site seen for first time since 2018, report says
North Korea has resumed activity at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site for the first time since 2018, a new report said. File Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE

SEOUL, March 8 (UPI) -- Construction is underway at North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site, a new report said, in the first signs of activity since 2018 when parts of it were publicly detonated after leader Kim Jong Un declared a halt to nuclear weapons activity.

Commercial satellite imagery taken last week shows "very early signs of activity," including the construction of a new building and the repair of an existing one, according to a report released Monday by analysts from the Monterey, Calif.-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

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The report said the work is "very preliminary," but could indicate that Pyongyang has plans for bringing the site back into operation in order to test newer and more powerful nuclear weapons.

"The test site is many months, if not years, from being ready for North Korea to conduct nuclear explosions there," the report said. "If North Korea were to resume nuclear testing, it could further improve its confidence in its large thermonuclear weapon with a yield greater than 100 kilotons, or it could validate new tactical nuclear weapons for its stockpile of shorter-range ballistic and cruise missiles."

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The findings come on the heels of another report by international monitors that found North Korea is expanding its Yongbyon nuclear facility,

North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon or launched an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, but Kim set off alarms in January after suggesting that he may be ready to lift a self-imposed moratorium.

Pyongyang has ramped up the pace of its missile program in 2022, with nine launches to date of a variety of projectiles, including long-range cruise missiles, an alleged hypersonic weapon and an intermediate-range ballistic missile.

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After a hiatus that observers believed was tied to Beijing's Winter Olympics in February, North Korea resumed activity over the past two weekends, with launches of ballistic missiles that it claims are tests for a spy satellite.

The flurry of activity comes as South Korea is preparing to hold its presidential election on Wednesday.

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