On October 17, a study published by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University and published on the 38 North web site suggested the sixth underground test at the site had caused “substantial damage to the existing tunnel network under Mount Mantap.”
A Japanese news report on Tuesday confirmed an accident which claimed at least 200 lives in North Korea’s nuclear test site earlier this month.
The victims were said to be excavating a tunnel at the regime’s nuclear enclave when it collapsed.
TV Asahi quoted some unnamed North Korean sources, saying a tunnel collapsed at Punggye-ri in early September, days after North Korea conducted its sixth and largest underground nuclear test on September 3.
The first accident claimed about 100 victims but unfortunately, another cave-in occurred during rescue operations by dozens of laborers and increased the tally to 200.
No exact date has been given for the mishap.
“The accident was triggered by the test,” TV Asahi reported.
North Korea claims the September 3 test beneath Mount Mantap was of a hydrogen bomb, with monitors suggesting the detonation was equivalent to an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1 on the Richter scale.
Some analysts put the yield of the weapon as high as 280 kilotons, while seismologists picked up signs of underground collapses in the hours and days after the blast.
Satellite images of the Punngye-ri site taken immediately after the test revealed significant damage to surface features, including landslips.
It added that there is a possibility that the site is suffering “Tired mountain syndrome”, although there were no indications that it was being abandoned for future nuclear tests.
Nam Jae-chol, the head of South Korea’s Meteorological Administration, warned in testimony before parliament on Monday that further tests at Punggye-ri could cause the mountain to collapse and release radioactivity into the environment.
“Based on our analysis of satellite imagery, we judge that there is a hollow space, which measures about 60 meters by 100 meters beneath Mount Matap,” he said. “Should another nuclear test take place, there is a possibility of a collapse.”
Punggye-ri was the site of North Korea’s sixth-ever nuclear test on September 3. They tested a huge 100-kiloton explosive which was around seven times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima during WW2.
Experts say there’s great danger looming. If the mountain falls apart, it could leak radiation into the atmosphere near China’s border.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geology and Geophysics warned: “China cannot sit and wait until the site implodes.
“Our instruments can detect nuclear fallout when it arrives, but it will be too late by then.
“There will be public panic and anger at the government for not taking action.”