The underground nuclear test site that North Korea has pledged to dismantle remains usable in spite of damage from a previous blast, and its closure could easily be reversed, US intelligence officials said on Friday.

“There is no reason to conclude that the Punggye—ri test site is no longer functional,” said one US intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The US intelligence officials’ comments appear to contradict recent academic reports that suggested the range was rendered possibly unusable by a September nuclear test.

Pyongyang pledged in the run—up to Friday’s historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in that it would dismantle Punggye-ri to “transparently guarantee” a pledge to discontinue nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

The Kim—Moon summit was held in advance of a meeting Kim is expected to have in late May or early June with US President Donald Trump, who is demanding that the North Korean leader verifiably eliminate his nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea has conducted all six of its nuclear tests at Punggye-ri, which consists of tunnel networks burrowed beneath Mount Mantap in the country’s northeast.

A detonation last September of what North Korea said was a successful hydrogen bomb test was found by recent academic reports to have been so large that it triggered a collapse inside the mountain, rendering the entire site geologically unusable for future tests.

The US intelligence officials said that Punggye—ri remains usable, despite what a second official called “some minor geological disturbances” around Mount Mantap that could be natural or triggered by the September test.

Even if one test tunnel collapsed, others within the complex still can be used, said the first official. REUTERS

 

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