Active construction has been seen at a nuclear test site in northern Russia since last year, raising the possibility that Moscow is preparing for a fresh nuclear test, a Japanese expert on the Russian military said Monday.

Citing analysis of satellite images, Yu Koizumi, associate professor at the University of Tokyo, said a large-scale facility presumed to be related to nuclear testing appears to be almost complete at the site on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the Arctic Sea.

Koizumi called the activities exceptional and said Russia could be preparing a subcritical nuclear test, which does not create an explosion.

He believes the move is "to intimidate European countries and the United States" over their support for Ukraine, which is at war with Russia.

Novaya Zemlya was the site of the Soviet Union's around 130 nuclear tests, including in the atmosphere, underground and undersea, between 1955 and 1990.

Photo taken on Aug. 25, 2023, shows buildings at a nuclear test site on Russia's Novaya Zemlya archipelago. The large building near the bottom, stretching horizontally, is suspected to be a facility related to nuclear tests, near completion. (No trimming allowed)(Photo courtesy of Planet Labs PBC)(Kyodo)

Russia continued with subcritical nuclear tests on the island to enhance nuclear weapons and assess their capabilities, with the latest conducted in 2004.

Satellite images by space tech company Maxar Technologies Inc. and Earth imaging firm Planet Labs PBC, both of the United States, showed that works to construct the large facility got fully underway around last summer at the test site on the southern part of Novaya Zemlya, according to Koizumi.

The building, some 200 meters in length, is around double the size of other facilities in the area and was nearly complete in the Maxar images taken in early February, Koizumi said.

"It is highly likely that the facility was newly built for a (nuclear) test," he said, adding a pile-up of materials around an airport suggests that the facility could be further enlarged.

At the same time, the images did not show any direct evidence of a nuclear test, Koizumi said, citing snow covering an entrance of a tunnel located around 3 kilometers from the nuclear site in the mountains, which could be used for a subcritical nuclear experiment.

In November last year, Russia revoked its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear explosions, whether for military or peaceful purposes, in a move seen as its de facto exit from the treaty.

"We should seriously worry about Russia playing the card of a nuclear test," Koizumi said.