What Is N.Korea's Yongbyon Nuke Facility?

  • By Kim Jin-myung

    September 21, 2018 13:46

    North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex in North Pyongan Province has been gradually expanded since the 1960s and is now a cluster of about 390 buildings. Every part of the nuclear weapons development process has been done here, from making nuclear fuel from natural uranium to producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium that are needed for nuclear weapons. 

    What has attracted Washington's attention most is the uranium enrichment facility that the regime revealed to American nuclear physicist Siegfried Hecker in November 2010. At the time, Hecker saw an enrichment facility of some 2,000 centrifuges, which would be capable of producing up to 40 kg of highly enriched uranium per year.

    In late 2013, a satellite camera spotted the regime expanding the facility to double its size.

    There are two operating reactors at Yongbyon, a 2 MW research reactor that the North received from the Soviet Union in 1965 and a 5 MW graphite reactor that began operations in 1986.

    The 5 MW graphite reactor is reportedly capable of producing 5 to 7 kg of plutonium per year. The regime started building a 50 MWe graphite reactor capable of producing 55 kg of plutonium per year, but stopped construction in 1994.

    Afterwards, it built a 100 MWt light-water research reactor, which is expected to start running soon. The new reactor is believed to be capable of producing 10 to 15 kg of plutonium annually.

    A radiochemical laboratory that opened in 1989 extracts plutonium by reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from the 5 MWe reactor. It can reprocess 500 kg of spent nuclear fuel per day.

    A nuclear fuel processing plant that began operating in 1987 is supposed to produce nuclear fuel for the 5 MWe reactor, using natural uranium. The plant is presumed to be superannuated now.

    The regime has continued running these nuclear facilities at Yongbyon despite a flurry of diplomatic activities this year and vague promises to the U.S. and South Korea to denuclearize.

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