TERRIFYING News Out Of North Korea


Images of the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon could also indicate operation of centrifuges that could be used to increase North Korea’s stock of enriched uranium.


The images of the radio-chemical laboratory showed there had been at least two reprocessing cycles not previously known aimed at producing “an undetermined amount of plutonium that can further increase North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile”, something that would worry US officials who see Pyongyang as one of the world’s top security threats.

North Korea has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US, and last week tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, which experts said could hit all of Alaska and parts of the US Pacific Northwest, Military.com reports.

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Experts at 38 North estimated in April that North Korea could have as many as 20 nuclear bombs and could produce one more each month.


North Korea also has conducted five nuclear tests, including three since Kim Jong Un took power after his father died of a heart attack in 2011. Officials have said it is poised to carry out a sixth at any time.

Analysis by 38 north:

Thermal imagery analysis of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center indicates that from September 2016 through June 2017:

  • The Radiochemical Laboratory operated intermittently and there have apparently been at least two unreported reprocessing campaigns to produce an undetermined amount of plutonium that can further increase North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile. This suggests batch rather than continuous processing of spent fuel rods from the 5 MWe Reactor during the period of analysis.
  • Increased thermal activity was noted at the Uranium Enrichment Facility. It is unclear if this was the result of centrifuge operations or maintenance operations. Centrifuge operations would increase the North’s enriched uranium inventory; however, based on imagery alone, it is not possible to conclude whether the plant is producing low or highly enriched uranium.
  • The thermal patterns at the probable Isotope/Tritium Production Facility have remained consistent, suggesting that the facility is not operational, or is operating at a very low level. This means, the facility is likely not producing tritium, which is an essential isotope used in the production of boosted yield nuclear weapons and hydrogen bombs.
  • From December 2016 through January 2017, the thermal pattern over the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) was elevated. While that might indicate that the reactor was operational, the likelihood is low since the pattern does not appear in subsequent imagery over the last six months. It is possible that there are alternative explanations for the elevated pattern, for example, short-term activity at the ELWR such as the heating of pipes to prevent freezing. Regardless, any activity at the ELWR is cause for concern and bears continued monitoring.
  • The 5 MWe Reactor has either been intermittently operating at a low-level or not operating. The notable exception to this was during December 2016 and January 2017 when thermal patterns suggests a higher level of operations.

38 North is a project of The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

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