A TUNNEL at an underground North Korea nuclear site has collapsed with up to 200 people killed, according to reports.
The collapse happened at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the north-east of the country on October 10, according to Japan’s TV Asahi.
The disaster has prompted fears of a massive radioactive leak which could spark a Chernobyl- or Fukushima-style disaster.
A North Korean official said the collapse happened during the construction of an underground tunnel, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports.
Some 100 people are said to have been trapped by the initial tunnel collapse, with a further 100 lost in a second collapse during a rescue operation, Asahi reported Tuesday.
The accident is believed to have been caused by Kim Joing-un’s sixth nuclear test on March 3 which weakened the mountain, according to the report.
A satellite image taken on April 12, 2017 of a North Korean Punggye-ri test site
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It was reported earlier this year that the mountain under which the base is believed to be hidden was at risk of collapsing and leaking radiation into the region.
Experts said if the peak crumbles, clouds of radioactive dust and gas would blanket the region, the South China Morning Post reported.
The Punggye-ri test site is carved deep into the side of Mount Mantap.
Geophysicist Wen Lianxing and his team at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, Anhui province, said they were “confident” underground detonations were occurring underneath the mountain.
Satellite images show the area around North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site
Punggye-ri is seen in commercial satellite imagery taken April 12, 2017
They posted an analysis of data collected from more than 100 seismic monitoring sites across China.
This has narrowed down the location of Pyongyang’s nuclear tests with a margin of error of just 100m. They’ve all been under the same mountain.
Seismic data showed the underground test triggered an earthquake of magnitude 6.3, around ten times more powerful than the fifth test a year ago.
Satellite images showed the blast caused numerous landslides around the Punggye-ri test site, according to the Washington-based 38 North monitoring project.
But Chinese nuclear weapons researcher and chair of the China Nuclear Society Wang Naiyan told the Morning Post a collapse could spark a major environmental disaster.
He said: “We call it ‘taking the roof off’. If the mountain collapses and the hole is exposed, it will let out many bad things.
“A 100 kiloton bomb is a relatively large bomb. The North Korean government should stop the tests as they pose a huge threat not only to North Korea but to other countries, especially China.”
Satellite photos taken just a day after the blast reveal new gravel and scree fields shaken loose by the blasts at an elevation of about 2205m.
Analysts said these appeared more numerous and widespread than those caused by previous detonations — which would be in keeping with the increased size of the bomb.
Wang said there are limited mountains in North Korea that are “suitable” to conduct a nuclear test.
He said if the North had simply drilled into the side of the mountain, this increased the risk of “blowing the top off”.
News of the tunnel collapse comes after it emerged Russia and the US have both flown nuclear bombers near the country as tensions grow over Kim’s nuke threats.