March 06, 2019 10:31
North Korea continues to use a uranium-enrichment facility at its main nuclear site in Yongbyon, according to International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano.
Amano also said in the IAEA's quarterly report that the North continues to construct an experimental light-water reactor in Yongbyon.
A 5 MW reactor in Yongbyon that produces plutonium has been halted since December last year, but he said the IAEA has not been able to confirm the purpose of the North's use of the uranium-enrichment facility.
IAEA inspectors were kicked out in 2009.
U.S. experts believe that the North is able to produce two to three nuclear weapons a year even without the Yongbyon facility, whose closure was one of the sticking points in North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's failed summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director general of the IAEA, told Voice of America, "If you have selected the technology North Korea has, which is the gas centrifuge enrichment technology, it doesn't use electricity very much. It looks like any other industrial workshop, or even a supermarket."
And David Albright of the non-governmental Institute for Science and International Security told VOA, "One could argue that Yongbyon produces enough plutonium and could be making weapon-grade uranium for two to three nuclear weapons a year. They can have enough enrichment facilities outside of Yongbyon to make that same number a year."
Albright added that Yongbyon accounts for a maximum 50 percent of North Korea's total nuclear weapons program based on the analysis of different governments "and it's not the most critical part at this time."
South Korean intelligence officials are also focusing on Pyongsan, North Hwanghae Province and Pakchon, North Pyongan Province, where uranium-refining and enrichment facilities are thought to be concentrated.
"North Korea is estimated to be able to produce around 80 kg of highly enriched uranium annually at facilities other than Yongbyon," a military source said. "That's enough to make around three uranium-based warheads a year."
An industrial complex in Kangson south of Pyongyang has been identified as the North's second nuclear facility. Hagap in Jagang Province is apparently home to a uranium-enrichment facility, while Sakchu in North Pyongan Province houses a factory producing graphite for nuclear reactors.
Intelligence officials are also monitoring a research facility along the Apnok River in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province that was believed to be simply a nuclear test site.
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com