North Korea appeared to destroy at least three nuclear tunnels, observation buildings, a metal foundry and living quarters at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site on Thursday, in a process observed by invited international journalists.
A CNN crew at the remote mountain site in the country’s north witnessed explosions at nuclear tunnels 2, 3 and 4, from observation decks about 500 meters away.
They were among two dozen journalists invited into the country to observe the apparent destruction of the site, which comes just weeks before a planned meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.
“We spent about 10 hours on the ground at the nuclear test site,” said CNN’s Will Ripley, speaking by phone from a train on the 12-hour journey back from the test site to the coastal city of Wonsan.
Before the explosions, the journalists said they were invited to view the explosives rigged in the tunnels, before moving a safe distance away to witness their detonation.
“They took us to 3 of the 4 tunnels on the site. They allowed us to open us the tunnel doors, take a look inside, we couldn’t actually step into the tunnels,” Ripley said. “As far as the eye could see, they were rigged with explosives.”
The amount and type of explosives used were not described by the regime. The CNN journalists present described seeing “soccer ball” sized and shaped explosives, rigged alongside one another, visible for a distance of around 35 meters inside the tunnels.
The journalists watched a succession of explosions, and when they were finished were allowed closer to inspect the damage. Each tunnel was caved in, with rubble blocking the entrance.
According to Ripley, there were no international experts in the invited group and no one was present who was able to assess the explosions to tell if they were deep enough to destroy the tunnels.
North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests at the site, the most recent and powerful in September 2017.
There are four tunnels at the site, Ripley said, though journalists only witnessed the destruction of three. A fourth tunnel used for one nuclear test in 2006 had already been shut down, North Korean officials said.
“They also showed us two additional tunnels they said have never been used before and were until today ready to conduct a high-powered nuclear test at any moment,” Ripley said.
“This, the North Koreans say, is evidence of their commitment to transparency to denuclearization ahead of the planned summit in Singapore.”