Imagery suggests North Korea doubling its uranium enrichment capabilities
A 2012 image of the Yongbyon reactor complex
August 8th, 2013
06:56 PM ET

Imagery suggests North Korea doubling its uranium enrichment capabilities

By Jamie Crawford

North Korea may be increasing its ability to enrich uranium at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, according to an analysis of recent satellite imagery.

The Institute for Science and International Security report concluded that North Korea appears to have greatly expanded a building in the fuel fabrication complex that is used for gas centrifuges in the uranium enrichment process at the reactor facility.

The development amounts to a doubling in size of the complex from its original construction.

Construction on the building expansion appears to have preceded an announcement by the North Korean government earlier this year that it planned on restart all the nuclear facilities at the previously mothballed site.

"This announcement may have been partially intended as an oblique effort to reveal this new construction; one missed publicly at the time," wrote David Albright and Robert Avagyan, the authors of the report.

The imagery reveals an internal floor plan divided into three sections according to the report. In addition to two smaller rooms, the larger area appears to be a cascade hall where new centrifuges would be placed, Albright and Avagyan said.

While North Korea said the Yongbyon plant contained about 2,000 centrifuges in 2010, Albright and Avagyan said the new building could possibly accommodate up to 4,000, which would allow an increase in the nuclear fuel processing cycle.

Given the opaque nature of the North Korean government, it is impossible to know whether its assertion that it is only processing low-enriched uranium (LEU), compared to a more highly enriched fuel needed for nuclear weapons, is true.

"The extent of North Korea's centrifuge enrichment infrastructure is not fully known, and it is possible that some LEU produced in this facility could have been further enriched at a secret centrifuge site to produce weapon-grade uranium," Albright and Avagyan wrote. "A significant question remains whether North Korea has made weapon-grade uranium, and if so, how much it has made."

While North Korea detonated plutonium-based atomic devices in 2006 and 2009, enriched uranium is generally considered a more effective material for making weapons. The country revealed it had a duel uranium enrichment program in 2010. It is unknown if North Korea's most recent nuclear test in February was plutonium or uranium based.

A doubling of capacity at the site would mean that annual weapons grade production would double to 68 kilograms the report said, while noting that some of that output could be used to make LEU for the experimental light water reactor at Yongbyon.

"A more realistic estimate is that doubling the capacity would allow for an increase in the production of enough weapon-grade uranium for up to two nuclear weapons per year," Albright and Avagyan said.

Analysts who follow North Korea said the developments are potentially worrying due to the unknown nature of the uranium program in North Korea.

Joseph Cirincione, who studies global nuclear proliferation for the Ploughshares Fund, said current estimates show the North has four to eight nuclear weapons from their plutonium program.

If the centrifuges to enrich uranium were proven to work "they could generate dozens of new bombs in the next 10 years," he said.

But Cirincione cautioned the latest construction, while possibly a true addition to its enrichment facilities, could also be more of an effort to put “on a new roof" in order to get incentives from the United States to back away from its nuclear ambitions.

"This underlines the need to restart negotiations [with North Korea] in order to get the intelligence to understand the scope of their program, and to find ways to stop it," Cirincione said.

The latest report came on the heels of two other findings over the uncertain nature of North Korea's long-range missile programs.

Satellite imagery released last month showed North Korea moving ahead with efforts to improve and possibly modernize its missile program through a series of engine tests.

But an analysis of separate images a few weeks later suggested the North appeared to have stopped work on a long-range missile launch site.

Post by:
Filed under: North Korea • Nuclear • Yongbyon
soundoff (79 Responses)
  1. ron

    stop it? there is only one way to stop it and that is to flex our muscle now. Not later! you can't tell me that China has nothing to do with this. North Korea is doing all the dirty work, but I'm sure they are sharing with China. Why wait until China builds a bigger Navy and Airforce? North Korea will never change.

    August 13, 2013 at 11:51 am | Reply
  2. USAPeasant

    Ugh, North Korea being the headache of the East once more. This recent news though should be more than enough to justify Hagel's proposed missile defense shield for the west coast.

    August 10, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  3. paul martin foreign correspondent

    I said in my CNN, blog posts & broadcasts on KCLA on the Larry Elder show as special guest several months back that I had inside knowledge about NK's nuclear program and that they are far more techologically advanced than outsiders think they are !

    August 9, 2013 at 10:29 am | Reply
    • Random

      yep they are working with iran. connect the dots.

      August 9, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  4. Hfhjkfg Hdrgk

    how are those re-creation conentration camp ovens coming along in germany

    August 9, 2013 at 12:34 am | Reply
  5. Hfhjkfg Hdrgk

    only musliums know how woman should be treated

    August 9, 2013 at 12:32 am | Reply
  6. Hfhjkfg Hdrgk

    does the u.n. have their own personal definition of slope

    August 9, 2013 at 12:30 am | Reply
  7. Hfhjkfg Hdrgk

    go..figga niga...

    August 9, 2013 at 12:28 am | Reply
  8. Hfhjkfg Hdrgk

    Snow den’s e-mail provider is closing, cannot legally say why

    August 9, 2013 at 12:27 am | Reply
  9. Hfhjkfg Hdrgk

    .

    August 9, 2013 at 12:26 am | Reply
  10. Kevin

    I find it funny how I can get a better view on Google maps

    August 9, 2013 at 12:09 am | Reply
  11. Khgfds Hitejhvx

    ever ask yourself what the word lazy means

    August 8, 2013 at 11:53 pm | Reply
  12. Kevin

    This was todays drill in the depths of the NK war room with the lil Kim and his generals.

    Lil Kim-B17.

    General-miss

    Lil Kim-D29

    General–hit.

    Lil Kim–A4

    General–miss

    Lil Kim–H13

    General– You sunk my battlrship!!!!!

    August 8, 2013 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  13. Taint

    Better missile defenses needed. Once in place, take out the NK nuclear program. End of story, at least for a little while. That dictatorship has to end!

    August 8, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Reply
    • Kevin

      Your last name wouldn't be Smart is it?

      August 8, 2013 at 11:18 pm | Reply
    • bam

      better missile defenses??? so our present ones are inferior? not that NK can reach us but sure.
      where the rail guns at?

      August 9, 2013 at 12:19 am | Reply
  14. Khgfds Hitejhvx

    you have enough money to watch fancy t.v. that's nice since I am blocked from using the internet like a normal american I can't even get close to a real private sector job

    August 8, 2013 at 10:50 pm | Reply
  15. Meki60

    Obama is such a piece of garbage

    August 8, 2013 at 10:24 pm | Reply
    • Pete

      @meki60,look in the mirror lately moron!!

      August 8, 2013 at 10:40 pm | Reply
    • Elmo

      Really? If you were going to put him in the proper recycle bin which would it be? Plastic, paper, aluminum?

      August 8, 2013 at 10:42 pm | Reply
    • Taraalcar

      Obama wasn't even mentioned in the article...

      August 8, 2013 at 10:46 pm | Reply
    • AlphaMaryYankee

      The reason our illustrious commander in chief is being cited with regards to this action by the NK is because he is a pansy and opposing powers realize he is such so they go ahead and do their little bad things thinking there will be no retaliation to worry about.

      August 8, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Reply
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        Talk about a clueless comment. NK has been developing nuclear weapons for years you fools.

        August 8, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
      • bam

        yeah the clueless like to Chime in....
        Let us here how we should bomb NK... which instantly gets Millions o fSouth Koreans killed, but what do we care about that. we sit in our chairs with foxfax blasting so we cant hear the birds chirping happily outside.

        August 9, 2013 at 12:22 am |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Another troll. Where you one of them fools in Arizona spitting out racial slurs about Obama?

      August 8, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Reply
    • bam

      yet a better person than u.
      turn off foxfax as u have no idea how your country is doing...
      hint: better than bush

      August 9, 2013 at 12:20 am | Reply
  16. Wayne

    SOOO if you don't want America to know what you're doing, don't put it in the same building.

    August 8, 2013 at 10:13 pm | Reply
  17. Who Goosed the Moose?

    To really expand the site, a deep penetration warhead with 20KT in effect should do the job.

    August 8, 2013 at 10:10 pm | Reply
    • Elmo

      I personally appreciate your thought of technical assistance with the site engineering. That's the proper kind of relationship building maneuver we need although I think your being a little modest on your kilo ton assessment.

      August 8, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Reply
      • JipJippity

        Genius!

        August 8, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
    • bam

      gets millions of South Koreans killed. no matter u safe

      August 9, 2013 at 12:23 am | Reply
  18. Reggie

    To bad there isn't anyone with the balls to do anything about it.

    August 8, 2013 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  19. T

    ........No food.........No fuel................No medicine............NOTHING......until NK stops its Nu ke building

    August 8, 2013 at 9:53 pm | Reply
  20. Hkutf Liutrdf

    all very predictable

    August 8, 2013 at 9:40 pm | Reply
  21. Brian

    I agree with the above comment about this getting old. You know I wonder if the North had noticed the US building onto
    our sites as well? You know Its kind of like you telling you friend he can't build a house but you can...? Either get the
    talks under way with them or start worrying about the US a little more and our problems here Mr. Obama ! I would say
    by the time Obama is moved out there will be very few counties that will even talk to us and then what ? Russia this week who next Obama, Canada?
    Great job, keep it up and you will have to complete the Keystone Pipeline because it will be on the only supplies of fuel to us along with everything else we ship in the US for the low wage paying companies...!

    August 8, 2013 at 9:10 pm | Reply
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Seriously? This whole comment you made sounds like you wanted to bash Obama instead of making an educated response.

      August 8, 2013 at 9:34 pm | Reply
    • Pete

      @Brian,having a hard time getting your point across..Pres.Obama has had people arranging talks and if you follow UNs people as well are talking so some sanctions can be lifted..And Pres.Obama bud is the diplomate here in getting countrys to respect US again after what Bush did with his ignorent way of foriegn affairs..Most countrys laughed at us not believing we had such an idiot for a president but by some posts here I know who voted twice for him and you Brian are one as well aren't yah!!

      August 8, 2013 at 10:38 pm | Reply
  22. j williamson

    Weapons of mass destruction? False flag? Pay attention folks – don't be duped again.

    August 8, 2013 at 8:50 pm | Reply
    • Peter

      I don't think Obama will order the invasion of North Korea, do you?

      August 8, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Reply
      • smdahl

        Obama and his terror team won't invade NK, they'd lose again. But they will try to cause another nuclear accident using stuxnet virus. They already used it against Iran and there is mounting evidence they used it at Fukushima.

        August 8, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        smdahl you really should lay off them mushrooms

        August 8, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
      • Fr33th1nk3r

        SMDAHL needs to let his drug dealer know to cut less baking soda in his cocaine.

        We'd lose "again"? When did we ever "lose", per se? You realize the controlled withdrawal from Afghanistan is due to the fact we have already secured the lithium rights we went their for?

        False flag? How does the U.S. government falsify communications coming directly from North Korea?

        August 8, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
      • Gamthin

        Wow, smdahl, you believe that the stuxnet virus caused an earthquake and tsunami. You are something special!

        August 8, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
      • Pete

        @smdahl,where do you come up with this conspiracy crap ,Sunday funnies..Pres.Obama hasn't lost to anyone bud because he's never put boots on the ground only Bush has remember and Fukushima you have no idea what the hell you're talking about ..Taken your meds recently!!

        August 8, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
    • Paul

      He already used the weapon, tool

      August 8, 2013 at 8:58 pm | Reply
  23. cjbigcat

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.....HUH?.....ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

    August 8, 2013 at 8:32 pm | Reply
    • Paul

      "This underlines the need to restart negotiations...," Cirincione said. Cirincione and the funny fat boy should sit in the corner with dunce caps for the rest of the day.

      August 8, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Reply
  24. Jiutrfhjku Jkuhfjh

    Is everyone having a good day being lied 2

    August 8, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Reply
    • Elmo

      Dude this better be important. True Blood is on in 30 min.

      August 8, 2013 at 10:41 pm | Reply
  25. Alice

    deploy Big Boy 2 now and finish this XoXo

    August 8, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Reply
  26. Shak

    So the terror the warning about AQ didn't pay off so lets create some stuff with North Korea now to scare people. This is just getting old.

    August 8, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Reply
    • Steven Brooks

      Why do you hate America, Shak? Why?

      August 8, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Reply
    • Peter

      You must be proud of your amazing power to immediately tell what reports are phony and what reports are real.

      It must be gratifying to be so certain about things.

      August 8, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Reply
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      The terror warning didn't pay off? Really?

      August 8, 2013 at 9:28 pm | Reply
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Terror warning? It wasn't a terror warning. It was an intercepted message about a possible attack in the Middle East. Your so called "terror warning" is mute because there was a terror attack that was stopped by the Yemenis officials.

      August 8, 2013 at 9:37 pm | Reply
  27. St. Xavier

    For all we know it could be a trick to make us believe NK is wanting to develop a better bomb when their really after more free food an the build up as a barging chip for sourly needs clothes an food. They did before my guess their doing again.

    August 8, 2013 at 8:02 pm | Reply
  28. Real as it gets

    @Veritas Lavinga what do you want the president to do, send a nuclear bomb to North Korea? We are just getting out of a recession

    August 8, 2013 at 7:58 pm | Reply
  29. George patton

    We sorely need to get together with the North Koreans and discuss this matter before it gets out of hand. Unfortunately, this Obama thinks that he's somehow about it just like every other right-wing nut job in Washington. These fools are just too arrogant and self righteous to do anything constructive except to thumb their noses at third world countries!!!

    August 8, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Reply
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Good job, Patton. What cave you been living in? We have been trying to re-establish communications with NK for decades. The end result is all their doing....

      August 8, 2013 at 9:29 pm | Reply
      • Pete

        @Fr33th1nk3r,glad someone using their head for something besides a hat rack..Yes Pres.Obamas team of Kerry and others have had some talks with UNs people because they want sanctions lifted because its basicly crippling their country...UN just arrogently threw out the armistice that's been around since the 50s so right now between N,S Korea anything goes!!

        August 8, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
  30. nonyabidnes

    I guess we should send them another 'Stern Warning"..

    August 8, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Reply
  31. r2g

    Yeah! Fatty's at it again!

    August 8, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  32. Veritas Lavinga

    The longer Obama sits around and does nothing about North Korea, the closer we are to epic disaster!

    August 8, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Reply
    • Peter

      What do you want him to do?

      Drop a nuke on North Korea?

      August 8, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Reply
    • Pete

      @veritas,been around our country long bud..N Korea have been playing head games with us since after they signed the armistice in the 50s..Every couple of years their arrogent little leaders put on a show of force and make idol threats that basicly go nowhere just like UNs recent ones,remember those with his toy rockets and his big threat of nuclear rockets possibly hitting our coasts of Hawaii or Alaska which they have nothing of the kind!!I've said all along to treat N Koreas UN as a spoiled child and give him the cold shoulder which Pres.Obama and other leaders have done and guess what it came to past and UN wasn't heard from for months until recently when he set up that stunt for reporters on their countrys anniversary!!

      August 8, 2013 at 11:27 pm | Reply
    • StanCalif

      At least, Obama is not sending free food and fuel to NK like GWB did! NK took the freebies to feed their army and refuel their military! None went to the starving people!

      August 9, 2013 at 7:57 am | Reply
    • StanCalif

      NK is China's problem child! Until China takes responsibility, nothing will ever happen. Where do you think NK is getting all their rocket and enrichment technology from? Are they buying it on the internet with a worthless currency?

      August 9, 2013 at 8:03 am | Reply

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.