As the world was on edge last weekend watching to see whether North Korea would conduct its sixth nuclear test, workers at the test site appear to have been playing volleyball, according to satellite imagery and an analysis released Wednesday.
“After almost eight weeks of elevated activity at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, commercial satellite imagery from April 16 indicates little activity around the North Portal, the tunnel that North Korea appears to have been preparing for another nuclear test,” leading North Korea monitor 38 North said Wednesday.
“Imagery does show what may be three volleyball games underway at different locations throughout the facility, and possibly another volleyball net set up at the command center area.”
Satellite imagery of the site in recent weeks indicated Pyongyang was preparing for another nuclear test, ratcheting up tensions on the Korean peninsula. Many had speculated the test would come this past weekend as the country marked the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founder.
The nuclear test did not come as expected, though the north conducted a failed missile test Saturday.
In its analysis Wednesday, 38 North said the Punggye-ri site remains ready to conduct the nuclear test whenever Pyongyang gives the order.
But images showing volleyball games could mean two things, the monitor said.
First, it said, allowing workers to play when they knew commercial satellites would be flying overhead could signal a decision to put the test on hold.
Alternatively, the monitor said, it could be part of an overall deception plan, with North Korea waiting to conduct the test until it has maximum political advantage.
“The North has engaged in such practices in the past,” 38 North said. “The most notable instance was the satellite launch from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in December 2012, when North Korean press reported technical problems with the Unha space launch vehicle after it was loaded onto the launch pad, but then proceeded to launch it the next day.”