Suspected Uranium Enrichment Site Spotted in N.Korea

  • By Kim Jin-myung

    July 16, 2018 12:24

    U.S. current affairs magazine the Diplomat on Friday published satellite photos of a suspected covert uranium-enrichment site in North Korea.

    Researchers led by Jeffrey Lewis at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies analyzed satellite photos of the site taken since 2001.

    A U.S. government source "confirmed... that the discovered site corresponded to the covert enrichment site referred to by the U.S. intelligence community as Kangson," the magazine said.

    It added U.S. intelligence officials detected another secret uranium-enrichment facility in the North. Uranium-enrichment facilities are much easier to conceal than the reactors that reprocess plutonium.

    The Washington Post reported on June 30 that U.S. intelligence officials are aware of the Kangson facility, which they believe produces twice as much weapons-grade uranium as the well-known nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

    There were guesses that Kangson is in the Chollima district south of the Daedong River in Pyongyang, but this is the first time that the location has been pinpointed.

    The facility is only 1 km from the Pyongyang-Nampo expressway and 5 km from the Mangyongdae district, the birthplace of regime founder Kim Il-sung. The proximity to a major highway makes it easier to bring in uranium hexafluoride and carry out depleted uranium waste.

    For years, large vehicles were spotted entering and leaving the site, while highly enriched uranium could have been sent to research centers, according to the Diplomat. Nearby is the Taesong Machine Factory where missiles are built.

    Kangson is surrounded by a wall, and in the middle is the suspected main building measuring 110 m by 50 m where thousands of centrifuges are believed to be housed, emitting heat all year round. Satellite images in the winter show surrounding buildings covered in snow but the main building always clean. The researchers suspect that production began in 2003, which was the first year when no snow settled atop the building.

    When former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was in power, what appear to be a steel tower and mural were put up at Kangson, usually a sign marking a visit by the leader. But Kangson has never appeared in reports by the North's state news media.

    A first building was spotted in the formerly barren field in April 2002. The North imported centrifuges and uranium-enrichment technology from Pakistan from 1998 to 2002 and admitted the activities for the first time in October 2002.

    The U.S. government noticed the facility in 2007 but did not suspect nuclear weapons-related activity until 2010. The Washington Post refrained from reporting on the site in detail for fear of harming informants in North Korea.

    The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency estimates that the amount of uranium enriched in Kangson and Yongbyon is increasing by 12 percent a year and that North Korea produced enough fissile material as of last year to produce at least 60 nuclear weapons.

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