UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Chik-tong, P'unggye-yok / Punggye-ri
(Kilju / Kilchu / Kisshu / Gilju)

North Korea appears to be repairing the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, dismantled in May 2018. South Korea's defense ministry detected movement by the regime that appear to be restoring part of the site's tunnels. Seoul and Washington are monitoring the situation and are closely cooperating on the matter. In March 2022, signs of activity at the site were seen in commercial satellite imagery. It showed the construction of a new building and repairs to an existing one.

North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site, in the country's northeastern Hamgyongbuk-do Province, became a thing of the past on 24 May 2018. After a long, arduous journey, the reporters were taken close to the North Portal, also known as tunnel number 2 -- the place where the regime had conducted most of its nuclear tests, from the second one to the sixth.

There they were briefed by the Deputy Chair of the North's Nuclear Weapons Institute, Kang Kyung-ho. Kang said preparations to shut the site had been made after plans for its closure were announced two weeks ago. The regime, he said, had halted building work, and removed cables, test equipment and pipes. The only stage left was for the reporters to witness the demolition of the tunnels and remaining facilities.

And at 11 a.m., the North Portal was blown up. The first blast destroyed the entrance to it, sending rocks and soil flying. Then inside the tunnel there were more explosions as if to assure the reporters that everything inside the portal had been destroyed. Soon, another blast destroyed an observation building near the entrance.

A second round of explosions took place at 2:17 p.m., starting at the West Portal, known as tunnel number 4, and then at nearby living quarters thirty minutes later. A thundering explosion, and all that was left of the building was rubble and dust.

The third round of explosions took place slightly past 4 in the afternoon, destroying the last remaining tunnel, number 3, also known as the South Portal. 15 minutes later, a military barracks was also blown up.

Once the explosions were over, Deputy Chair Kang officially declared the test site closed. "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea's Nuclear Weapons Institute held a ceremony that completely demolished the northern nuclear test site on May 24th, 2018 to transparently show our willingness to cease nuclear testing. By blowing up the tunnels, we completely blocked the entrances to them, as well as a number of security facilities and observation buildings. There were no radiation leaks nor was there any fundamental impact on the surrounding environment."

The KCNA news agency reported 12 May 2018 that North Korea was "taking technical measures" to demolish its nuclear test site and that foreign media would be invited to observe the ceremony. Only journalists from South Korea, China, the US, Russia and the UK will be allowed to attend the ceremony for the demolition of the nuclear site, the North Korean Foreign Ministry reported.

The journalists will be offered to arrive in the North Korean city of Wonsan by a special flight from Beijing, and then will be transported to Punggye-ri, where they will be able to shoot the process of the nuclear test site destruction for subsequent publication, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) agency noted. "A ceremony for dismantling the nuclear test site was scheduled between May 23 and 25, depending on weather conditions," the KCNA said, citing a foreign ministry press release.

The dismantling will involve collapsing all of its tunnels with explosives, blocking its entrances and transferring all observation facilities, research buildings and security posts.

According to media reports, in April 2018 scientists in China found that following North Korea’s latest nuclear test last year, a cavity inside Mount Mantap collapsed. One study said the breakdown of the mountain created a chimney that could allow radioactivity from the blast zone to rise into the air. The study also warned that any further testing at the site with a similar yield could cause an environmental catastrophe. Another study that was published by several other Chinese scientists came to the same conclusion about the collapse of a cavity at the facility but did not say whether the site was still usable.

North Korea's main nuclear test site partially collapsed under the stress of multiple explosions, possibly rendering it unsafe for further testing and leaving it vulnerable to radiation leaks, a study by Chinese geologists reported 30 April 2018. The findings could cast doubt on North Korea's sincerity in announcing that it would stop testing nuclear weapons at the site ahead of the summit between the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in. The findings, was written by Tian Dongdong, Yao Jiawen and Wen Lianxing, scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China.

North Korean analysts say that even if the collapse of parts of the facility happened and if Mount Mantap is unusable, there are other mountains nearby and other tunnels. Joseph Bermudez, a North Korean expert with 38North, said the northern entrance at the Punggye-ri facility leads to a series of tunnels that branch off, which is how they have been able to host so many tests at the site. “Obviously the tunnel that was used for each of the tests is no longer viable but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t another branch that the North Koreans could use,” Bermudez said. At the site, there are three other entrances. One to the east that was apparently used for North Korea’s first test, another to the south that has not been used and then a portal to the west, he added.

James M. Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said 27 April 2018 that even if North Korea cannot use Mount Mantap there are other mountains in the vicinity or elsewhere. “The decision not to test is a political decision, it is not, I think one forced on North Korea for technical reasons,” Acton said. “This is neither a technically enforced decision nor is it a permanent decision. It would not be difficult to reverse.”

On 31 October 2017, published reports claimed that more than 200 people were believed to have died in North Korea when an underground tunnel at its main nuclear test site collapsed. The collapse happened at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the country's north-east on October 10, according to reports. Some 100 workers were involved in an initial collapse. Another cave-in occurred during rescue operations, leaving at least 200 people feared dead in total, the Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi said.

US-based North Korea monitoring website 38 North said 10 March 2017 the regime was excavating a tunnel at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, which may support an explosion up to 14 times more powerful than its last test. The analysis says there has been a lot of work at the North Portal, where the last four of the five underground nuclear tests by the North were conducted. Experts say the excavation will allow North Korea to support additional underground nuclear tests of more than 280 kilotons. Just for some contrast, the North's latest nuclear test in September 2016 was estimated to be a maximum of 20 kilotons.

On 8 April 2012, South Korea's Yonhap agency reported new excavation work at the Punggye-ri site, where North Korea had been believed to have tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009. Yonhap said that South Korea's National Intelligence Service had informed them that earth and sand had been piling up outside a tunnel entrance at the site. The NIS believed that the excavation was preparation for a third nuclear test.

P'unggye-yok (also known as Punggye-ri), Kilju County [Kilchu-gun / Kilchu-kun] is located in North Korea's North Hamgyeong Province. The county seat of Kilju-gun is the town of Kilju. The town of Kilju-up is fourteen air miles inland from the coast, the farthest point inland for a town of any size along the whole length of the east coastal road.

The Musudan-ri Launch Facility is located on the northeast coast about 30 km southeast of Kilchu. Japanese journalist Eya Osamu reported that there is a Scud missile base in Kilchu-kun, though he did not disclose the exact location of the base. This report remained unconfirmed.

Kilchu is also reported to be the site of an Atomic Weapons Training Center. In January 1958, the Soviet Union helped establish the "Atomic Weapons Training Center" in or near Kilchu-kun, but it seems nothing was heard of this Center since that time.

Mount Mantap is approximately 17 Km North-Northwest from P'unggye-yok, a rail-road station, Kilju County, North Hamgyeong Province.

The named place that is most nearly proximate to the possible nuclear underground test site is Chik-tong, a small populated place located at 41°16'00"N 129°06'00"E. The suspect site is quite isolated, and is to be found several kilometers away from Chik-tong, and several kilometers removed from Mount Mantap.

In the late 1990s, the South Korean Government became aware that a tunnel was being dug in the area. According to another report, US intelligence had been monitoring the Kilju area since 2002. US satellite imagery detected mounds left from the digging of tunnels. It was possible to estimate the depth of the tunnel based on the amount of soil removed.

Since late August 2004, US intelligence had reportedly monitored activity consistent with preparations for a nuclear test. The activities included the movement of materials around several suspected test sites, including one near a location where intelligence agencies reported in 2003 a series of tests of conventional explosives. Although there were several tunnels deep enough and with suitable terrain for a test throughout the country, there was only one place with a lot of activity.

By late April 2005, there were reports that North Koreans were constructing a reviewing stand and filling in a tunnel, both signs that an underground nuclear test was imminent. Tunnels for underground nuclear tests are different from regular mines, since they have to be plugged up to contain the blast. Satellite imagery of Kilju County, North Hamgyeong Province, reportedly indicated the North Koreans were "stemming" the tunnel, taking material back into the shaft to plug it up. Satellite imagery indicated that North Korea was shipping concrete and grouting to the site, possibly to plug the tunnel. Although there were signs of continued activity near tunnels in the Kilju area, there was disagreement among intelligence agencies as to whether the recent activity indicated an impending nuclear test.

Other reports indicated that the satellite imagery showed the North Koreans had dug and refilled a significant hole at the suspected test site. The hole was said to have been dug in a manner consistent with preparations for an underground nuclear test, but there was no conclusive indication as to whether the North Koreans had deposited a weapon inside. These reports indicated that the shaft is a vertical shaft, rather than a horizontal tunnel. Imagery also detected frequent truck movement bringing cranes and other equipment. The presence of cranes is consistent with a vertical shaft, but not a horizontal tunnel.

Imagery was also reported to show recent construction of an elaborate reviewing stand for visiting dignitaries a few kilometers from the suspected test site. The reviewing stand was considered a significant indicator of a possible nuclear test. American intelligence had overlooked the reviewing stand built prior to the 1998 Taepodong-1 missile launch during which North Korea had visitors from other countries invited to watch the launch.

In a closed-door report to members of the National Assembly's Defense Committee, the head of the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff intelligence told lawmakers on 04 May 2005 that six or seven other areas in North Korea were also being monitored for signs of preparation for a test.

Other sources in both the United States and South Korea claimed to be closely monitoring the work, but also claimed that there were no signs indicating preparations for a nuclear arms test. There was no clear indication of the electronic equipment that would be used to monitor the scale and success of a nuclear test.

On 02 May 2005, ROK Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, South Korea's top negotiator in the six-party talks, said that Seoul had yet to find any sign of Pyongyang conducting underground nuclear tests, despite close scrutiny. Defense Ministry spokesman Shin Hyun-Don said "US and South Korean authorities have detected sings of a tunnel being drilled in Kilchu while constantly monitoring it, but it is unclear what the tunnel is for."

On 06 May 2005, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said "I don't want to get into discussing intelligence matters, but what I would say is that if North Korea did take such a step, that would just be another provocative act that would further isolate it from the international community."

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei was quoted as saying that he hoped "every leader is on the phone with North Korean authorities to dissuade them from a nuclear test. If Pyongyang detonates a nuclear device, it would have disastrous political consequences for Asia and the whole world, not to mention environmental implications in terms of radiological fallout."

On October 3, 2006, North Korea announced that it would "in the future conduct a nuclear test", though no date was specified. Though no location was specified, the North Korean announcement followed August 2006 reports of suspicious activity outside P'unggye-yok, an underground facility in northeast North Korea, including vehicle movement and unloading of large reels of cable. Some thought that the test might happen on 08 September 2006, the anniversary of Kim Jong IL becoming head of the National Worker's Party in 1997.

In late September 2006, a member of the intelligence committee of South Korea's National Assembly reported on the construction of a tunnel at Mount Mantap in North Hamkyong Province. According to South Korea's National Intelligence Service, the tunnel is approximately 700 meters deep beneath the surface of Mount Mantap and is situated near a horizontal tunnel.

In 2009, following criticism of a long range rocket launch, the North Koreans conducted a second underground nuclear test at the P'unggye-yok site after walking out on negotiations over nuclear disarmament.

Area Background

With the advent of iron there came about a great change in the economy and in war-making. No longer would people huddle together in small ravines. Dynasty-based blood ties were replaced by a string of smaller states centering on geographic areas, in the Old Choson Period. While the Chinese had conquered the area about 100 BC, and dominated the peoples of the western side of the peninsula, it was impossible for the Chinese to have any real control.

Koguryo rose in the environs of the mid-Yalu River, founded in 37 BC ("Koguryo" and is the root of the modern name "Korea"). Tong'ye developed to the south. Okcho stood in the plains of Hamhung on the eastern coast, on the plain which now includes Hamhung, Kilchu, Tanch'on. The Okcho and Tong'ye Kingdoms came under the control of Koguryo shortly thereafter. Koguryo eventually dominated the whole of northern and central Korea. This marked a contentious period of Korean history -- the Three Kingdoms Period -- in which various states fought between themselves and the Han Chinese for control of East Asia.

State Councillor Yun Kwan and Fourth Minister of Office of Ministers-without-Portfolio O Yon-ch'ong (1055-1116) were appointed as Chief Commander and Commander each in 1107 (Year 2 of King Yejong's reign) and subsequently defeated the Jurchen with an army of seventeen thousand and extended the Koryo border. They built six walled fortresses in Hamju, Pokju, Ungju, Yongju, Kilju, and Konghomjin, then erected a monument with four letters of 'Koryojigyong' (the boundary of Koryo) at Sonch'unryong, thereby marking out the boundary.

Founded in 1392, the Choson Dynasty became one of the world's longest continuously ruling royal families, lasting until 1910. The kings of the early Choson period such as the founder of the dynasty Lee Song-gye, his son Lee Pang-won (King Taejong), Taejong's son Sejong and the seventh king Sejo all paid keen attention to the medical therapy of hot springs, as court records tell that these kings visited the hot springs located in Kilju situated in the hinterland of Hamgyung province in the north for hot spring bathing. King Sejong [1397-1450] of the Choson Kingdom, the inventor of the Korean alphabet hangul, ordered royal researchers to explore the curative properties of bathing in water heated with gemstones or actually bathing in hot spas sprung from an inactive volcanic area to wipe out diseases.

In 1467 (Year 13 of King Sejo's reign) Yi Si-ae (?-1467), who was from Kilju, had roused a rebellion, so the central government sent O Yu-so as First Assistant Commander to suppress the uprising, and major battles were waged at Hongwon, Pukch'ong and Manryong. The rebels forces fell into chaos and collapsed easily, so government troops managed to defeat them.

The Bukgwan Victory Monument [Bukgwan Daecheop Bi or Bukgwandaechupbi or Bukgwandaecheopbi in Korean], commemorates the victory of general Jeong Mun-bu over Japanese forces during the Japanese invasion of Korea of 1592-1598 [the Seven-Year War - Imjin Waeran, literally "Japanese Turmoil of the Year Imjin").

Munbu Jeong (1565~1624), a military officer in the middle of the Joseon Period, led the volunteers army that reclaimed the area of Hamgyeong-do by defeating Japanese invaders. The Seven-Year War left deep scars in Korea. This war was an unmitigated tragedy from which the peninsula kingdom never fully recovered. Following the war, relations between Korea and Japan were completely suspended. In 1607, a Korean mission visited Edo, and diplomatic and trade relations were restored on a limited basis.

The Bukgwan Victory Monument was erected in Kilju County, North Hamgyeong Province in 1707, the third year of the reign of King Sukjong. The 186 cm-tall monument has 1,500 characters inscribed on its surface. During the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Japanese soldiers carried the monument off to Japan, where it waa placed in a corner of Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine.

Korean monks demanded the return of the monument. Japan had rejected previous demands, pointing to a divided Korean Peninsula. Prime Minister Lee Hae Chan and North Korea's president of the Supreme People's Assembly Presidium Kim Yong Nam met in Jakarta in April 2005 and agreed on the need to restart dialogue. They agreed specifically to begin talks about Japan's return of the Bukgwan Daecheop Bi. The two Koreas reportedly agreed to eventually restore the monument at its birthplace in North Hamgyeong Province, after temporarily exhibiting it in the South.

Yi Kwang-sa (b Seoul, 1704; d Sinji Island, South Cholla Province, 1777) was a Korean painter, calligrapher and poet. Born the son of a government minister during the Choson period (1392-1910), he was involved in the conspiracy of the Soron faction in 1755 and was exiled to Kilju in North Hamgyong Province. In 1762 he was transferred to Sinji Island, where he eventually died.

General Choi Hong Hi died on June 15, 2002, in Pyongyang, North Korea. The (North) Korean Central Broadcasting network announced his death on June 17, 2002. The North Korean government buried General Choi in a State Funeral. His last wish was to die and be buried in Korea. According to a source close to General Choi, he did not think of Korea as two countries, but as one, his homeland. The General was 83 at the time of his death. The world remembers General Choi as a the "Father of Taekwon-Do." He was born 09 November 1918 (Western calendar, 22 December 1918) in Kilju, in the rugged and harsh area of Hwa Dae, Myong Chun District, DPRK.

Situated beyond the reach of effective naval gunfire, Kilchu was a favorable place for the North Koreans to fight a delaying action. The ROK attack before daylight of 03 November 1950 developed into a day-long battle whichfailed to win the town. The ROK 1st Regiment joined the Cavalry Regiment in the battle. By daylight of 5 November the two ROK regiments had encircled Kilchu, and they captured it before noon. On the day of Kilchu's capture Corsair air strikes from the 1st Marine Air Wing were credited with destroying 2 enemy tanks, 4 artillery pieces, and 350 counted enemy dead. The next day a count of all the North Korean dead reached 530. In the Kilchu battle the ROK's captured 9 45-mm. antitank guns, 6 82-mm. mortars, and 10 heavy machine guns. The ROK Cavalry Regiment lost 21 killed and 91 wounded. Prisoners said the N.K. 507th Brigade had defended the town. The local North Korean commander reportedly ordered the execution of a battalion commander whose unit had retreated.

The best selling novel by James Michner, the "Bridges at Toko-Ri" [and the film of the same name] are based on real-life bridges between Kilchu and Sognjin. The east coast rail line is joined at this point by another line originating from the northwest out of Manchuria. During the Korean War Chinese logistics depended on two principal land transport nets, the western rail and road complex, in which the lines from the lower Yalu and from Manpojin joined in the area north of Pyongyang, and the eastern route, in which the tracks south from Hoeryong and southeast from Hyesanjin met at Kilchu (Kisshu) and continued down the coast to join the transpeninsular line below Hungnam.

In the west the American mission of interdicting these lines was assumed by Bomber Command; the eastern rail and road lines, more distant from UN bases, became the responsibility of the Navy. Through March and into April of 1951 the Navy's carrier planes ranged over northeastern Korea, covering the four degrees of latitude from the 38th parallel north to beyond Chongjin. The effectiveness both of the bridge strikes and of Communist efforts to undo the damage may be seen in the history of the most famous of east coast structures, the bridge below Kilchu, where the railroad crosses what came to be known as Carlson's Canyon.

Eight miles southwest of Kilchu the rail line, tunnelling through the hills, emerges briefly to span a gully and then disappears again underground. Twin tunnels had been dug in preparation for double tracking, and two sets of piers erected, but only a single track had been thrown across the chasm on a six-span bridge, 650 feet long and 60 feet high. The tunnels made it difficult to bypass; its height made it difficult to repair.

Strikes destroyed the whole works, knocking down all rebuilt cribs and spans and leaving only the concrete piers. The bridge was originally knocked out by Navy carrier planes on 3 March, was repaired and again put out of service by air strikes on 15 March and would be revisited and totally destroyed on 2 April. If it did not discourage the Chinese, this destruction at least forced them to change his plans. Reconstruction of the bridge was abandoned and the labor force put to work on the building of a four-mile serpentine which would bypass bridge and tunnels alike. This bypass required eight new bridges of its own. After 38 days of concentrated effort in interdiction, 54 rail and 37 highway bridges had been rendered inoperable, 44 more had been damaged in varying degree, and the railroad tracks had been broken in more than 200 places.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 08-05-2022 19:35:46 ZULU