Information emerging from furtive North Korea indicates that a tunnel at the regime’s nuclear test site collapsed last month after a nuclear test, killing about 200 people.
A report from Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi, citing unnamed sources, said 100 people were killed in an initial collapse around Sept. 10, and another 100 died in a rescue operation.
Other reports put the date of the collapse as Oct. 10. No official North Korean announcement was made about the date of the collapse.
North Korea’s massive Sept. 3 test caused multiple tremors and landslides in the region, according to Reuters.
Even before news of the tunnel collapse emerged, Western analysts had said the region might be unfit for more nuclear tests.
Reports that a tunnel collapsed triggered fears that radioactive material might also leak out.
Nam Jae-cheol, the chief of South Korea’s Korea Meteorological Administration, said Monday some type of collapse was likely.
“Based on our analysis of satellite imagery, we judge that there is a hollow space, which measures about 60 to 100 meters (in length), at the bottom of Mount Mantap in the Punggye-ri site,” he said. “So, should another nuke test occur, there is the possibility (of a collapse).”
Asked then whether an earthquake could trigger a release of radioactive materials, Nam said, “Should it sink, there is a possibility,” according to the South Korean Yonhap News Agency. September’s hydrogen bomb detonation resulted in a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. Aftershocks led to a 3.4 magnitude quake on Sept. 23 and a 2.9 magnitude quake on Oct. 12. Earlier this month, experts speculated that North Korea’s test site might have suffered irreversible damage.
“The explosion from the Sept. 3 test had such power that the existing tunnels within the underground testing site might have caved in,” said Kim So-gu, head researcher at the Korea Seismological Institute.
“I think the Punggye-ri region is now pretty saturated. If it goes ahead with another test in this area, it could risk radioactive pollution,” he added, as reported by Reuters.
A more powerful underground detonation at the current site could be “potentially suicidal,” not only because of damage from past tests, but also due to potential eruptions at Mount Paektu, a volcano only about 60 miles away, according to Kune Yull Suh, a professor of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University.
The website 38 North, which tracks North Korean activities, reported that the Punggye-ri nuclear test site did sustain damage from the last test. It said there were “numerous landslides throughout the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site on the slopes of Mt. Mantap (and beyond) resulting from North Korea’s sixth nuclear test. These disturbances are more numerous and widespread than seen after any of the North’s previous five tests.”