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North Korea restoring another tunnel at nuclear test site, report says

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North Korea has begun construction activity on a second tunnel at its Punggye-ri nuclear test facility, U.S.-based think tank CSIS said, while appearing to have finished earlier restorations of another tunnel. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/c3876edbe17f722aa763d37b7b62aca9/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
North Korea has begun construction activity on a second tunnel at its Punggye-ri nuclear test facility, U.S.-based think tank CSIS said, while appearing to have finished earlier restorations of another tunnel. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, June 16 (UPI) -- North Korea has begun repairing a second tunnel at its Punggye-ri nuclear test facility, according to a U.S. think tank, while earlier restoration work appears ready for the secretive regime to conduct an underground nuclear detonation.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report Wednesday that refurbishment work has stopped at the site's Tunnel No. 3, indicating that preparations are "apparently now complete and ready for an oft-speculated seventh nuclear test."

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Analysis of commercial satellite imagery collected Tuesday also shows activity for the first time at Tunnel No. 4, the report said, "strongly suggesting an effort to re-enable it for potential future testing."

"The timing of a seventh nuclear test now rests solely within the hands of Kim Jong Un," the report's authors concluded.

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North Korea has conducted six underground nuclear tests at the site since 2006. Its last, in September 2017, was of a weapon estimated to have a yield of 140 to 250 kilotons -- at least 10 times as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

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Pyongyang dismantled the Punggye-ri facility in May 2018, using explosives to destroy buildings and test tunnel entrances after declaring a freeze on long-range missile and nuclear tests during a period of rapprochement with Washington and Seoul.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lifted his self-imposed moratorium on the tests earlier this year, however, in response to what he called the "hostile policy and military threat" of the United States. In March, Pyongyang launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017.

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U.S. and South Korean officials have warned repeatedly over the past several weeks that Pyongyang is preparing to conduct a nuclear test at any time.

On Monday, Seoul's Foreign Minister Park Jin told reporters in Washington that North Korea "has now finished the preparation for another nuclear test, and I think only [a] political decision has to be made."

Park said after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that a test by North Korea would be met with "a united and firm response."

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The CSIS report noted that a close-up view of the area around Tunnel No. 3 showed some minor landscaping with small trees or bushes, likely in anticipation of a visit by senior officials.

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It had been unclear whether North Korea had fully destroyed the Punggye-ri tunnels in 2018, but the restoration of Tunnel No. 3 indicated at least one of the facility's four test sites was salvageable.

New signs of activity at Tunnel No. 4 also "suggest that the disabling was not complete," the report said.

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