Private US Earth imaging company Planet Labs has snapped a satellite image that observers from the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies claim may show a previously undeclared North Korean nuclear facility that’s being used to build nuclear warheads.
The image, reportedly taken in late May, is said to be situated in the town of Wollo-ri in Pyongyang region, with the ‘nuclear warhead factory’ situated near the Ryongaksan Spring Water Factory.
Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute specializing in arms control, spoke to CNN and released a report on the suspected nuclear site, saying it “has a number of signatures suggesting that it has a role in the DPRK’s nuclear program,” including “a strong security perimeter and what appears to be several high-rise residential buildings on site,” with North Korea “emphasiz[ing] the construction of better housing as a perk for scientists and technicians involved in the nuclear and missile programs.”
“Moreover, although there are monuments at the Wollo-ri site that indicate leadership visits, we find no state media reports on any such visits. These are all characteristics of other DPRK nuclear facilities, such as the enrichment plant at Kangson,” the observer added.
According to Lewis, the suspected secure facility’s amenities, which may include possible underground elements, “stand in stark contrast” to the adjacent spring water factory, which “has little security and no on-site housing.”
US intelligence suspects that the facility is engaged in warhead manufacturing, according to the analyst.
Nuclear Bomb Factory or Officer School?
An anonymous military source questioned Lewis’s claims Thursday, telling US government-supported media outlet Daily NK that the Wollo-ri facility is an officer training school, not a nuclear weapons manufacturing facility.
“The building in question is the Pyongyang Anti-Aircraft Unit Command’s Political Military University, which is located on the right-hand side of a road running through Wonro Village heading toward Taedong County from Chilgol Station,” the source was quoted as saying, adding that there were no underground components or high-rise buildings onsite.
The source pointed out that along with the bottling facility situated “directly across from the school’s front gate…there is farmland inside a wall behind the main office building,” and a graveyard where people gather during traditional Korean holidays to pay respects to their ancestors, “which makes it very unlikely that [the government] would conduct secret nuclear program-related activities there.”
Cooling US-DPRK Relations
The ‘new North Korean nuclear facility’ story comes just days after the Pyongyang announced that the nation has no intention of holding any more talks with the US any time soon.
“Is it possible to hold dialogue or have any dealings with the US which persists in the hostile policy toward the DPRK in disregard of the agreements already made at the past summit?” First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui asked, speaking to North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency last week.
According to Choe, the Trump administration’s trick of using negotiations with Chairman Kim Jong-un as a “tool for grappling its political crisis” would no longer “work” on Pyongyang.
Last week, Russian Ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora revealed that the leaflet crisis was caused by photoshopped offensive images of Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol-ju spread into North Korea in late May which he said evoked “serious outrage” in Pyongyang.