North Korean Uranium Enrichment Facility Expands

Global Security Newswire Staff
Aug. 8, 2013, 9:02 a.m.

The In­sti­tute for Sci­ence and In­ter­na­tion­al Se­cur­ity re­leased a re­port on Wed­nes­day find­ing that the area of the Yongby­on re­act­or com­plex re­spons­ible for en­rich­ing urani­um is now twice as large as it was in the past.

Ac­cord­ing to the New York Times, the re­port by the Wash­ing­ton-based, non­pro­lif­er­a­tion-mon­it­or­ing group trig­gers new wor­ries that North Korea is ex­pand­ing its ca­pa­city to pro­duce weapons-grade fuel.

The ana­lys­is was based on a com­par­is­on of satel­lite im­ages of the com­plex taken in March — be­fore con­struc­tion began on the ex­pan­sion — and on a June im­age that shows the frame­work of the ad­di­tion, which is roughly the same size as the ini­tial cent­ri­fuge fa­cil­ity.

Ad­di­tion­al pro­lif­er­a­tion ex­perts agreed with the IS­IS ana­lys­is that the urani­um-en­rich­ment por­tion of the site ap­pears to have doubled in size, the Times re­por­ted.

The ex­pan­ded fa­cil­ity could pro­duce any­where from 16 to 68 kilo­grams of weapons-grade urani­um, enough to man­u­fac­ture two nuc­le­ar weapons per year, the IS­IS re­port states. 

North Korea as­serts that the cent­ri­fuge fa­cil­ity pro­duces low-en­riched urani­um for an onsite ex­per­i­ment­al light wa­ter re­act­or at the com­plex. However, it is un­clear how ex­tens­ive the North’s en­rich­ment ca­pa­city has be­come and wheth­er the isol­ated na­tion has pro­duced weapon-grade urani­um — and, if so, how much, ac­cord­ing to the ana­lyt­ic­al or­gan­iz­a­tion.

North Korea has faced sanc­tions from the United Na­tions aimed at pre­vent­ing the North from ac­quir­ing spe­cialty metals and cent­ri­fuge com­pon­ents from over­seas. Py­ongy­ang might have been able to de­vel­op ways of pro­du­cing these ma­ter­i­als do­mest­ic­ally, ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per.

The news comes less than two weeks after North Korea’s lead­er Kim Jong Un told the Chinese vice pres­id­ent that he was open to re­start­ing de­nuc­lear­iz­a­tion dis­cus­sions, and just a day after the North pro­posed an­oth­er round of talks with South Korea with the in­tent of re­open­ing a shuttered fact­ory com­plex op­er­ated jointly by the two na­tions.

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