North Korean has “completely” dismantled its nuclear testing ground at Punggye-ri, a statement by the Nuclear Weapons Institute of the DPRK said on Thursday.
The statement, published by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), comes shortly after international media organizations – present at the Punggye-ri site – reported witnessing the destruction of several tunnels.
“Dismantling the nuclear test ground was done in such a way as to make all the tunnels of the test ground collapse by explosion and completely close the tunnel entrances, and at the same time, explode some guard facilities and observation posts on the site,” the statement read.
“It has been confirmed that there were neither leakage of radioactive materials nor any adverse impact on the surrounding ecological environment,” it added.
The statement said the measure to close the site had ensured the “transparency of the discontinuance of nuclear test(s)”.
It added that the entire site will be closed after further removal of above-ground structures.
“Complete closure of the area surrounding the nuclear test ground will come on the heels of successive removal of all ground observation facilities, research institutes and structures of guard units, and withdrawal of staff concerned.”
Critically, the statement adds that Thursday’s demolition would see the discontinuation of nuclear testing as a move towards “global disarmament.”
“We will continue to join hands with the world peace-loving people in building a nuclear-free peaceful world, a new independent world where the dream and ideal of humanity are realized,” it said.
Immediately prior to the statement being issued, a select group of international journalists – invited by the government to observe the dismantlement of the site – began reporting that they had witnessed the destruction of several tunnels at the site.
“North Korea destroyed at least three nuclear tunnels, observation buildings, a metal foundry and living quarters at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site,” CNN reported with a Punggye-ri byline.
“Before the explosions, the journalists said they were invited to view the explosives rigged in the tunnels, before moving a safe distance away to witness their detonation,” the report added.
North Korea first announced it would dismantle its “nuclear test site in the country’s northern side” following a meeting of the country’s ruling party in late April.
That plan was later confirmed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in during talks with Kim Jong Un on April 27, during which the DPRK leader reportedly said he would invite international press and experts to the event.
“To disclose it to the international community in a transparent manner, [Kim] unveiled [the plan] to invite South Korean and U.S. experts and journalists to North Korea,” a senior official at the ROK presidential office said at the time.
The DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier this month said Pyongyang would invite international journalists to witness the dismantling of its northern nuclear test ground, without making any mention of the attendance of experts.
No experts were reportedly in attendance on Thursday – a move which will likely raise questions about the verifiability of the site’s destruction.
Punggye-ri — until Thursday the world’s only known active nuclear test site — has been the location of all six of North Korea’s nuclear tests since the country’s first in October 2006.
The country tested further nuclear devices in May 2009, February 2013, and January and September 2016. Its final test occurred in September last year.
The northern nuclear test ground is reportedly comprised of four tunnels, with the east portal believed to be where the North conducted its 2006 test.
It is believed to be no longer usable – something CNN reported was reiterated to them at the ceremony on Thursday.
The DPRK’s five subsequent nuclear tests are believed to have been conducted at the northern portal, while the other two have never been used. The Nuclear Weapons Institute of the DPRK referenced the two tunnels in Thursday’s statement.
“It has been confirmed by local and international reporters that two tunnels at the nuclear test ground were ready for use for carrying out very powerful underground nuclear tests at any time,” it said.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA