Punggye-ri, May 24 North Korea destroyed its only known nuclear test site with a series of explosions over several hours on Thursday, taking an initial step towards denuclearization, according to journalists visiting the area.
The North dynamited the North Portal, also referred to as Tunnel No. 2, at Punggye-ri, a northeastern remote area, at 11 a.m., Yonhap news agency reported.
Two other tunnels were destroyed at 2.17 p.m. followed by the explosion of barracks, observation towers and other facilities on the ground.
The blasts ended at 4.17 p.m., the journalists said without clarifying whether Tunnel No. 1 or the East Portal, was removed as well. Among the four tunnels in the zone, the East Portal was evidently abandoned earlier, according to 38 North, a US-based website.
North Korea allowed a select group of journalists from Britain, China, Russia, South Korea and the US to watch its engineers destroy and close tunnels in the Punggye-ri test site, where the country conducted all six of its nuclear tests.
No independent outside nuclear monitors were invited to verify the dismantlement of the site.
The South Korean government welcomed the move, voicing hope for further progress in efforts for a nuclear-free Korea.
"The government evaluates the dismantlement of the nuclear test site this time as the meaningful first step for translating North Korea's will for complete denuclearization, which it expressed via the South-North summit, into action," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
It added that it will continue diplomatic efforts to realize the complete denuclearization stipulated in the Panmunjom Declaration, referring to the inter-Korean summit deal reached in April, and the establishment of permanent peace on the peninsula.
In its own statement, the North said it "completely" collapsed the nuclear test facilities.
The Nuclear Weapons Institute of the DPRK said it held a ceremony for completely dismantling the northern nuclear test ground of North Korea on May 24, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
"The Punggye-ri test site was what the North had used to advance its nuclear capabilities," said Chang Cheol-un, a researcher at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Kyungnam University. "It should be regarded as a symbolic step of finally submerging the North's nuclear test site."
But sceptics claimed the demolition had little substantial effect on the North's nuclear programme as Punggye-ri may had already been rendered useless due to repeated blast tests.
Some say that the North has completed its nuclear technology and does not need to conduct tests anymore.