November 23, 2010 11:31
South Korean intelligence officials believe North Korea's uranium enrichment facilities may be more extensive than the one shown to a visiting U.S. nuclear expert. "We believe there are more centrifuges [for uranium enrichment] than those it revealed," an intelligence official said.
The U.S. Institute for Science and International Security said North Korea may have secretly developed uranium enrichment facilities in the past and added, "It is possible that North Korea built another plant previously and either transferred it to Yongbyon or simply built another one based on its experience of bringing the first, perhaps smaller, one into operation."
David Albright of the center pointed out that there was no such facility at the Yongbyon nuclear complex until April last year. "To outfit a plant with 2,000 centrifuges this quickly suggests that this may not be the first gas centrifuge plant that North Korea has built."
North Korea "has never shown its entire hand" in past negotiations, a Foreign Ministry official said. In talks with Washington in the early 1990s over a reactor in Yongbyon, North Korea had already extracted more plutonium than U.S. officials had thought. By the time it blew up a cooling tower in Yongbyon in June 2008 in a flamboyant show of its commitment to denuclearization, North Korea is believed to have acquired a significant level of uranium enrichment know-how.
"When it scrapped its plutonium-based program at the Yongbyon reactor, which was practically junk at the time, the North was probably confident about its uranium development skills," said Cheon Seong-whun of the Korea Institute for National Unification.
Some officials believe that North Korea has either started developing a hydrogen bomb or already has highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium. Shin Sung-taek, a Korean-American nuclear expert, has said that North Korea imported 150 tons of high-strength aluminum from Russia in June 2002, which is enough to make 2,600 centrifuges. This suggests that North Korea has more than the 2,000 it claimed to have during the U.S. expert's visit this month.
According to a government source, uranium enrichment facilities are easy to conceal, but many believe they may be located near existing nuclear facilities. Experts say they could be near the Yongbyon complex, the nuclear test site of Punggye-ri or in a tunnel near Kumchang-ri which is believed to house another nuclear facility.
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