North Korean Chemical Plant Might Fuel Weapons Effort

A South Korean soldier participates in a chemical weapons response drill in Seoul last November. A massive expansion of North Korea's premier chemical complex is likely to benefit the nation's chemical weapons production efforts, concludes a new expert analysis.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
Add to Briefcase
Rachel Oswald
April 11, 2014, 7:10 a.m.

A massive con­struc­tion ef­fort by North Korea to ex­pand a chem­ic­al-pro­cessing com­plex might be fuel­ing a weapons pro­gram, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts.

For the last eight years, Py­ongy­ang has been work­ing on a “ma­jor ef­fort to mod­ern­ize” the Nam­hung Youth Chem­ic­al Com­plex, the ex­pert web­site 38 North said in an im­age ana­lys­is pub­lished on Thursday. First con­struc­ted in the 1970s, the com­plex pro­duces much of the isol­ated coun­try’s fer­til­izers, in­sect­icides and herb­i­cides.

But ac­cord­ing to Ja­pan­ese and South Korean of­fi­cials — as well as North Korean de­fect­ors — the site also plays a role in the gen­er­a­tion of chem­ic­al-war­fare ma­ter­i­als.

The fa­cil­ity’s mod­ern­iz­a­tion “has the po­ten­tial to ma­ter­i­ally im­prove the quant­ity and qual­ity of the North Korean chem­ic­al weapons in­vent­ory,” wrote North Korean de­fense ex­pert Joseph Ber­mudez.

Though it is dif­fi­cult to de­term­ine what spe­cif­ic chem­ic­al-weapon func­tions the Nam­hung com­plex per­forms, it ap­pears the site pro­duces chem­ic­al weapon pre­curs­ors that are then trans­por­ted else­where for mix­ing and pour­ing in­to mu­ni­tions, ac­cord­ing to the 38 North ana­lys­is. The as­sess­ment is based on sur­veil­lance satel­lite pho­to­graphs, in­clud­ing some taken as re­cently as Decem­ber, as well as pub­lished North Korean pro­pa­ganda im­ages.

Ber­mudez points spe­cific­ally to the con­struc­tion of an an­thra­cite coal gas­i­fic­a­tion fa­cil­ity as be­ing likely to be­ne­fit North Korea’s chem­ic­al-weapons pro­gram. An­thra­cite coal — of which North Korea has sig­ni­fic­ant de­pos­its — is an in­gredi­ent used to make carbide. That sub­stance, in turn, is needed in the pro­duc­tion of mus­tard agent, ac­cord­ing to a 2003 ana­lys­is by the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies. An­thra­cite gas­i­fic­a­tion is also used to pro­duce fer­til­izer.

Since 2011, the an­thra­cite gas­i­fic­a­tion plant has had at least two pro­cessing lines, said 38 North, a pro­ject of the U.S.-Korea In­sti­tute at Johns Hop­kins Uni­versity.

Between 2006 and 2013, roughly 106 fa­cil­it­ies and in­dus­tri­al struc­tures were built at the chem­ic­al com­plex, “an un­pre­ced­en­ted en­deavor dur­ing a polit­ic­ally tur­bu­lent and eco­nom­ic­ally con­strained peri­od,” Ber­mudez said.

What We're Following See More »
INCLUDES WAIVER FOR MATTIS
Congress Releases Stopgap Funding Bill
2 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

"Congressional negotiators released a stopgap spending bill Tuesday night to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight Friday and to fund federal agencies and programs through April 28." The 70-page continuing resolution includes $170 million to aid Flint, Michigan's water supply, and a waiver that would allow Ret. Gen. James Mattis to assume the role of secretary of Defense.

Source:
INTERSTATE COMPACT GAINING TRACTION
Democrats Explore Electoral College Changes
8 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

"A number of Capitol Hill Democrats have revived proposals to reform or abolish the Electoral College," chief among Michigan's John Conyers, who "held a panel on Capitol Hill Tuesday to discuss options for eliminating the Electoral College and replacing it with a system where a national popular vote elects the president. ... The plan with the most support to reform the election college at the panel was the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, a proposal first developed in 2001 that would give the national popular vote winner the majority of electoral college votes through an agreement between the states."

Source:
EFFORT LIKELY TO DIE IN COMMITTEE
Jordan Can’t Force a Floor Vote on Impeaching Koskinen
13 hours ago
THE LATEST
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan attempted to force a floor vote on impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, but "the House voted overwhelmingly to refer it to the Judiciary Committee. ... The committee will not be required to take up the resolution." Earlier, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "made a motion to table the resolution, which the House voted against by a 180-235 margin, mostly along party lines."
Source:
AFTER THE VOTE FOR SPEAKER
Ryan: No Committee Assignments Until New Year
18 hours ago
THE DETAILS

House Speaker Paul Ryan has decreed that House members "won’t receive their committee assignments until January — after they cast a public vote on the House floor for speaker. "The move has sparked behind-the-scenes grumbling from a handful of Ryan critics, who say the delay allows him and the Speaker-aligned Steering Committee to dole out committee assignments based on political loyalty rather than merit or expertise." The roll call to elect the speaker is set for Jan. 3, the first vote of the new Congress.

Source:
EXPECTED TO FUND THE GOVERNMENT THROUGH SPRING
Funding Bill To Be Released Tuesday
1 days ago
THE LATEST

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Monday that the government funding bill will be released on Tuesday. The bill is the last piece of legislation Congress needs to pass before leaving for the year and is expected to fund the government through the spring. The exact time date the bill would fund the government through is unclear, though it is expected to be in April or May.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login