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Google Earth Keeps Watch on World’s Nuclear Sites

North Korea tested its third nuclear device Tuesday at its Punggye-Ri site, the same location of its first two tests in 2006 and 2009. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded an artificial, or manmade, 5.1 magnitude earthquake. The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) predicted this nuclear test on Feb. 3, 2013, after evaluating satellite images of the site.

Through satellite images, the intelligence community has long been able to detect suspect nuclear reactor sites across the world. Many of these images feature excavated sites of displaced earth, structures resembling the dimensions of a nuclear reactor building, a perimeter of security around the buildings and construction work in progress.

North Korea is just one of a handful of countries ISIS has on its nuclear watch list. Here are some satellite images of the hermit nation’s facilities and a few more they have their eyes on.

Click on any image to enlarge.


This satellite image of the Punggye-ni Nuclear Test Facility in North Korea was collected on Jan. 28, 2013, confirming media reports that activity continues to be seen at the south part of the facility. Photo by DigitalGlobe and ISIS via Getty Images.

Another satellite image of the Punggye-ni Nuclear Test Facility site. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.

Satellite image of the east side of the Punggye-ni Nuclear Test Facility site. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.


Satellite image of the Ain Ouserra nuclear reactor site taken July 16, 2002. According to the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the reactor complex is the set of installations in the middle of the right side of the square with the Es Salam reactor as the prominent white rectangle. After Algeria was suspected of creating a nuclear weapons program in 1991, the country agreed to follow IAEA safeguards in February 1992. The El Salam reactor began operating in late 1993, and Algeria joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995. Image produced by SpaceImaging and provided by ISIS.


According to ISIS, this February 28, 2011 commercial satellite image of India’s uranium enrichment site Rare Materials Plant (RMP), the site of India’s military gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility, shows a facility under construction, adjacent to what ISIS assesses is a gas centrifuge plant. The new facility under construction might be a new gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant. Image by DigitalGlobe via Google Earth, courtesy of ISIS.


A satellite image of the Parchin high explosive test site on Jan. 17, 2013. Identification of recent activity such as a possible new building foundation, displaced earth and a reconstructed building are provided by ISIS on this image. Photo by ISIS and DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.


According to ISIS, this image shows the Khushab nuclear complex with security perimeters around all three major sites and a comparison between the reactor 2 and 3 facility and the reactor 4 facility. Photo by Digital Globe via ISIS.

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