North Korea secretly expanding uranium plant, watchdog group claims

·2-min read
Koreas Tensions Explainer (KCNA via KNS)
Koreas Tensions Explainer (KCNA via KNS)

North Korea is attempting to hide expansion and changes in its uranium enrichment plant from spy satellites, satellite imagery by US-based watchdog 38 North website shows.

The website said the reason for the changes are unknown. “The purpose of the building is still unknown and may be harder to determine via imagery going forward,” the watchdog said.

A post on the website said: “Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates continued construction activity at North Korea’s Uranium Enrichment Plant (UEP) at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre.”

“Imagery from October 1 indicates that previously reported construction in an area just north of the plant’s Cascade Hall #2 has recently been covered, concealing details of the building’s layout and construction,” it said.

“Prior to this concealment, the floor space measured roughly 42 meters by 15 meters (including walls), with six circles each approximately three meters in diameter observed at the east end of the building,” the watchdog claimed.

North Korea could be using the new building to develop weapon grade uranium, according to the watchdog. “One option, assuming that North Korea is producing low-enriched uranium at two enrichment halls, is that the extension could also be used to enrich low-enriched uranium to weapons grade (high-enriched uranium) as it becomes available from those two cascade halls,” the website said.

Earlier this month, a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that North Korea may have restarted its five-megawatt reactor which it has historically used to produce plutonium to support its nuclear programme.

North Korea’s moves come amid escalating tensions with the US. North Korea test fired three missiles in September which could hit all of South Korea and most of Japan. North Korea leader Kim Jong-un had also referred to US President Joe Biden’s engagement policy as a “petty trick”.

North Korea had also demanded that Mr Biden put an end to the military exercise with South Korea.

The ramping up of nuclear weapon production material at the uranium plant also comes in the backdrop of North Korea attempting to reopen communication with South Korea.

Communications opened last week after officials exchanged their first phone call since August. While North Korea had agreed to resume cross-border communication in end July, it had stopped answering calls just two weeks later; according to reports.

South Korea’s pro-communication President Moon Jae-in who had promised to deliver on bringing the two Koreas together is facing elections in March.

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