DPRK's test site is being closed. We visit the USSR's version.
This week’s big news from the northern half of the Korean Peninsular is that the DPRK’s nuclear test site of Punggye-Ri is being dismantled, with select foreign journalists invited to come and observe and report on this (other big news is this absurd and hubristic commemorative coin for an event that hasn’t even happened yet – maybe we’ll see one in the Mt. Myohyang International Friendship Exhibition soon!). Punggye Ri is at present the only active nuclear weapons testing site in the world, not for much longer hopefully. 38 North has an excellent Article about it online for anyone interested in learning more about this site and what is happening to it at the moment.
Koryo Tours has a bit of history with nuclear sites; our staff have made several trips to Chernobyl (amazing experience, contact us if you want to be introduced to the right people to take you there for an overnight stay), Los Alamos (excellent wine bars, and a museum that, DPRK style, focuses entirely on only one part of the story and almost completely omits some of the catastrophic results of the work done in that place). Just two weeks ago though we were with a group of intrepid tourists at the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Polygon, deep in remote Kazakhstan. This area is where the Soviet Union tested their nuclear weapons initially. Detonating hundreds of bombs on the ground, atmospherically, underground, and all over the place. It’s a deeply evocative and thrilling place to visit. While it had a reputation for being open to people wandering in for many years it has now tightened up and the scientists who work there studying longer-term effects are professional and safety-conscious (the fishermen who poach at the Atomic Lake less-so, maybe don’t eat those fish!)
A few pictures of our adventuring in the zone follow, more amazing ones from the trip by one of our travellers can be found here. The suits are a good look, contribute to the vibe (not so flattering though tbh), and are a requirement of the test site authorities but actually the levels of radiation in most areas are very low. There are hotspots and the best advice you an possibly give a visitors is not to be complacent about it and be aware that you really want to avoid ingesting any plutonium dust (if you drop a sandwich on the floor in this area, let it lie!).
One of our travellers on this trip sent an excellent summary of the degree of radiation exposure we absorbed on our 48 hours in the testing area. It’s complicated reading, but then nuclear stuff is notoriously difficult to understand! In summary though it is like having a small x-ray, more radiation absorbed on the flight to get there than at the site itself.
Are you interested in taking a holiday in a nuclear weapons testing area? Don’t worry, we think this is perfectly normal and admirable! Come along with Koryo Tours on one of our adventures in Kazakhstan and see something chilling, historically significant, and resonant to this day – unforgettable!
If you’re interested in getting as close as you can to the North Korean test site then join us on our Train Tour across North Korea; as we roll through the remotest edge of the DPRK we pass within just a few km of this site. This tour is next running in September – come along and see the return of the Mass Games as well as travelling in the best possible way across more of the country than anyone else has access to!
The blue arrow was the position of our train at 09:01 in the morning. the lower red pin is the Punggye-Ri nuclear test site - a place almost no North Koreans know the actual location of. the locals on our train were really interested to hear that they were very close to this area