Satellite imagery shows North Korea has already begun dismantling its Punggye-ri nuclear-test site ahead of a promise to destroy it entirely in front of international journalists. The removal of buildings and rail lines observed by 38 North on May 7 appear in line with Kim Jong Un's promise over the weekend to close the facility between May 23-25. But while some see the move as a positive step toward denuclearization, others see cause for concern. North Korea may be "sanitizing" the site, removing sensitive information about its nuclear program, before outsiders get access, nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis tells the Wall Street Journal. As no nuclear experts appear to have been invited to the site's decommissioning, there are also concerns about how its inoperability will be verified.
Though North Korea says all tunnels at the site will be collapsed in explosions, per the Guardian—Reuters notes the risk of spreading radioactive debris—experts say it would be easy for the country to dig new tunnels to continue nuclear tests, especially if nuclear material is hidden underground. Raising the possibility that the explosions might be a distraction, the Journal points out North Korea blew up a cooling tower at a nuclear-enrichment facility for international media in 2008, before going on to conduct five nuclear tests. For now, though, the US appears cautiously optimistic. "A permanent and irreversible closure that can be inspected and fully accounted for is a key step in the denuclearization of [North Korea]," a State Department rep tells Reuters. "We look forward to learning additional details." (Read more North Korea stories.)