North Korea Expands Military-Grade Uranium Plant, Satellite Images Suggest | North Korea

By on September 19, 2021 0

Recent satellite images appear to show North Korea is expanding a uranium enrichment plant at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, with experts saying the move shows an intention to increase production of bomb materials.

The assessment comes after North Korea recently increased tensions with its first missile tests in six months as part of long-dormant nuclear disarmament negotiations with the United States.

“The expansion of the enrichment plant probably indicates that North Korea plans to increase its production of military-grade uranium at the Yongbyon site by up to 25%,” said Jeffrey Lewis and two other experts. from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey. a report.

According to the report, photos taken by satellite imaging company Maxar showed construction in an area adjacent to the Yongbyon uranium enrichment plant.

He said a satellite image taken on September 1 showed North Korea cleared trees and prepared the ground for construction, and an excavator was also visible. The report says a second image taken on September 14 showed a wall erected to fence off the area, work on a foundation, and panels removed from the side of the enrichment building to provide access to the newly closed area.

Satellite image from September 1 showing the uranium enrichment plant at the North Korean nuclear complex in Yongbyon. Photography: AP

The new area measures approximately 1,000 square meters (10,760 square feet), enough space to house an additional 1,000 centrifuges, which would increase the plant’s capacity to produce highly enriched uranium by 25 percent, according to the report.

A satellite image of the same September 14 site that appears to show a new wall has been built.
A satellite image of the same September 14 site that appears to show a new wall has been built. Photography: AP

Nuclear weapons can be built using either highly enriched uranium or plutonium, and North Korea has facilities to produce both at Yongbyon. Earlier satellite photos of Yongbyon last month showed signs that North Korea was resuming operation of other facilities to produce military-grade plutonium.

North Korea calls the Yongbyon complex “the heart” of its nuclear program. At a summit with then-President Donald Trump in early 2019, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offered to dismantle the entire complex if he received major sanctions relief. But the Americans rejected Kim’s proposal because they saw it as a stage of limited denuclearization.

Some US and South Korean experts believe North Korea is secretly operating at least one other uranium enrichment plant. In 2018, a senior South Korean official told parliament that North Korea had also manufactured up to 60 nuclear weapons.

Estimates of the number of nuclear warheads North Korea can add each year vary, ranging from six to 18.

Over the past week, North Korea launched ballistic and cruise missiles out to sea in tests seen as an effort to diversify its missile forces and bolster its attack capability against South Korea and Japan. , where a total of 80,000 US troops are based. Experts say both types of missiles could be armed with nuclear warheads.

Kim has threatened to bolster its nuclear arsenal and acquire more sophisticated weapons unless Washington renounces its hostility against his country, an apparent reference to US-led sanctions and its regular military exercises with Seoul.

But Kim still maintains his self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile testing aimed directly at the Americas, suggesting he wants to preserve the chances of future diplomacy with Washington.