Images Reveal North Korea Construction Mystery

Why has work been halted for 8 months at long-range rocket site?
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 23, 2013 7:37 AM CDT
Images Reveal North Korea Construction Mystery
This May 26, 2013 satellite image taken by Astrium, and annotated and distributed by 38 North shows an unfinished new launch pad, center, at the Tonghae facility in North Korea.   (AP Photo/Astrium - 38 North)

It's not too often that growing grass features big in international spying efforts, but that's exactly the case with this story. The AP reports that an analysis of recent satellite imagery taken over North Korea indicates that construction has been halted for the last eight months at a site the country had earmarked as a location for launching bigger long-range rockets. The images, taken May 26, reveal an unfinished road, grass growing around a building's foundation, and no equipment or personnel, according to the analysis by 38 North.

The "what" is fairly clear, but the "why" isn't: It's unknown if the stoppage is temporary, or why it occurred in the first place. The AP shares a few theories being floated:

  • Equipment and construction troops sent from the site to help repair widespread rain damage last year may still be at other posts.
  • Kim Jong Un et al have decided they can achieve their aims using the more modern Sohae rocket launching site, the northwest coast location used to launch rockets in April and December 2012.
  • The stoppage may reflect a desire to ease tensions that grew heated in the face of North Korean war threats earlier this year.
  • The "most intriguing theory," per the AP: It could indicate Pyongyang has decided to slow or stop its construction of larger rockets.
Even if North Korea resumes work at the site, the delay means completion could be pushed back to 2017, at least a year longer than earlier estimates, according to the analysis. (Read more North Korea stories.)

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