NORTH Korea claims to have dismantled its only known nuclear test site today, detonating explosives and collapsing its entrances in front of international television crews in a highly symbolic move.
Tom Cheshire, Asia correspondent for Sky News, who was one of the journalists invited to watch the demolition said: “We hiked up into the mountains and watched the detonation from about 500 metres away.
“They counted it down: three, two, one.
“There was a huge explosion, you could feel it. Dust came at you, the heat came at you. It was extremely loud.”
The gesture is meant to reinforce the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un’s pledge to stop nuclear tests ahead of a planned summit with Donald Trump on 12 June in Singapore.
Despite North Korea’s desire to close the site, a war of words between Pyongyang and Washington this week cast a dark cloud over the summit, with both sides threatening to delay or pull out of the talks.
North Korea has used the site at Punggye-ri for all six of its six nuclear tests. The most recent one last September produced a 6.3-magnitude earthquake that was felt across the border in China and Pyongyang claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.
Experts have said while decommissioning the site is an important diplomatic gesture, it will not affect the north’s nuclear arsenal.
Earlier on Thursday, North Korea reminded the world it was not shy about , saying the US had to choose whether it wanted to “meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown”.
The test site consists of four main tunnels beneath mountains in the country’s north-east, according to analysis by monitoring group 38 North. While there has been some debate about whether the facility is still structurally sound, 38 North said there were still two unused tunnels.
That appears to confirm Kim’s claim the site was till in good working order, after a group of Chinese geologists said it had collapsed and was beyond repair.
Ahead of the closing ceremony, 30 international journalists razed buildings at the complex in preparation for a visit.
The remote location meant the group had to travel 18 hours by rail and bus, before continuing on foot for roughly the last hour. Authorities, according to Sky News, confiscated radiation monitoring equipment brought by some reporters.
The site’s location only became known in 2006 when the north conducted its first nuclear test under Kim’s late father, Kim Jong-il. Activities since have been closely watched through satellite imagery.