Say what you want about Kim Jong-un’s politics. In any case, the man loves his sports. Maybe that is because his father, Kim Jong-il, sank five hole-in-ones on the golf course. Or, perhaps, Dennis Rodman shared some secrets when he visited North Korea to watch basketball games. You could ask the hermit kingdom’s Olympic athletes just how seriously their country’s dictator takes sports, but unfortunately the ones who didn’t medal now work in the coal mines. So when a man who takes sports this seriously is on the brink of nuclear war with the United States, what does he do? Simple: he places volleyball courts on top of the nuclear test site.
Volleyball is the most popular sport in North Korea. People play it all over the country. However, there is something suspicious about the timing of the games at Punggye-ri. This nuclear test site is in the northeastern part of the country. Pyongyang ordered a hydrogen bomb test there in 2006. New aerial photos of the area show a decrease in military activity, but multiple volleyball games in action. This revelation led a team of international experts to suggest three possibilities. First, North Korea has slowed its nuclear test plans in light of pressure from China and international scrutiny. Second, it has already completed preparations for its sixth nuclear test. Third, and the most likely, it knows about the aerial reconnaissance and wants to provide the impression that everything is normal. Concurrent volleyball games pretty much say, “Nothing to see here. Move along.”
The images of the site show three volleyball courts. One court is at the barracks, one at the command center, and the third at the support area. Each court features six-player teams standing in formations consistent with volleyball. The imagery also shows evidence of tunneling into the underground test site. However, it does not appear that water was pumped from the tunnels. That is one of the final stages before testing can occur.
Experts believed the country’s sixth nuclear test would occur in April. The country tends to commemorate the birth of Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea, with a bang. However, there was only a non-nuclear missile launch. Nevertheless, Choe Il, North Korea’s diplomat to the United Kingdom today vowed that a nuclear test is just around the corner.