Geologists recorded an earthquake near North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site on Wednesday, an incident that South Korean officials believe is an aftershock from the last nuclear test there in September 2017.
According to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) in Seoul, the earthquake took place around 40 km north-northwest of Kilju, North Hamgyong Province around 7:20 a.m., with the epicenter at a depth of 12 kilometers and around 11 kilometers east of the nuclear test site.
Experts believe the earthquake was induced by the September 2017 underground detonation of a nuclear device at the test site, which caused an artificial quake of magnitude 5.7 to 6.3 at the time. The size of the seismic impact leads observers to believe this was the most powerful nuclear detonation in the history of the country’s illegal nuclear program.
“The quake seems to have occurred naturally as a result of past nuclear tests given the seismic waves and depth,” one KMA official told Chosun Ilbo. A total of 11 tremors have occurred in the area since the test, one of which reportedly triggered the collapse of several underground structures and caused the death of up to 200 laborers.
As part of their ongoing peace negotiations with South Korea and the United States, North Korea has repeatedly claimed to have destroyed the nuclear site, inviting international media to witness the demolition take place last year. Pyongyang notably prohibited nuclear scientists or any journalists with formal education in nuclear physics to attend the event.
Although images showed the demolition of the front of at least three tunnels used for nuclear tests, some analysts believe the site may still be functional. Other targeted parts of the site included observation buildings, a metal foundry and living quarters, all of which can easily be replaced.
“If the United States takes sincere measures and corresponding action to our leading and pre-emptive efforts, then (US-North Korea) relations will advance at a fast and excellent pace through the process of implementing (such) definite and groundbreaking measures,” he said.
“It is the unwavering position of our party and the republic’s government and my firm will that the two countries as declared in the June 12 joint statement to take steps to establish a permanent and stable peace regime and push toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he continued.