New satellite images obtained by CNN show recent activity at a previously undeclared North Korean facility that researchers suspect is being used to build nuclear warheads.
The imagery, captured by Planet Labs and analyzed by experts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, indicates that the facility, which is in the village of Wollo-ri near the country’s capital city of Pyongyang and has not been previously disclosed to the public, is believed to be linked to North Korea’s nuclear program and remains active.
“It has all the signatures of a North Korean nuclear facility – security perimeter, on-site housing, monuments to unpublicized leadership visits, and an underground facility. And it sits right next to a bottled water factory that has none of those characteristics,” Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, which specializes in open-source intelligence, told CNN prior to publishing his own report.
“The big thing that sticks out is all the vehicle traffic – cars, trucks, shipping containers. This factory is very active. That activity has not slowed down – not during negotiations and not now. It’s still making nuclear weapons,” he told CNN.
While the facility was identified in 2015 by researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Lewis and his fellow researchers previously chose not to publicize the facility because they could not identify its specific role within North Korea’s nuclear program.
However, the publication of the site’s name and function in a forthcoming book written by Ankit Panda, a North Korea expert who works for the Federation of American Scientists, makes its location a matter of public interest, they told CNN.
In his book, titled “Kim Jong Un and the Bomb,” Panda writes that the facility is thought to be primarily associated with manufacturing warheads and could also serve as a storage location for those weapons should North Korean leader Kim Jong Un need to disperse his stockpile “for better responsiveness in a crisis,” according to passages obtained by CNN.
“We’d been looking at this site for a long time and knew it was associated with the nuclear program. When Ankit Panda asked me if we knew about a site near someplace called Wollo-ri that was involved in making nuclear weapons, it all clicked,” Lewis said.
The CIA and Pentagon declined to comment when asked if the facility is believed to play a role in North Korea’s nuclear program.
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