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
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    August 8, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Reply
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  53. Meki60

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    August 8, 2013 at 10:24 pm | Reply
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      @meki60,look in the mirror lately moron!!

      August 8, 2013 at 10:40 pm | Reply
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      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
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      August 8, 2013 at 10:46 pm | Reply
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      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.
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      hint: better than bush

      August 9, 2013 at 12:20 am | Reply
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      August 9, 2013 at 12:23 am | Reply
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    • 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
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      August 8, 2013 at 10:38 pm | Reply
  60. 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 |
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        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
  61. cjbigcat


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

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

    deploy Big Boy 2 now and finish this XoXo

    August 8, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Reply
  64. 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

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      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
  65. 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
  66. 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
  67. 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 |
  68. nonyabidnes

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

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

    Yeah! Fatty's at it again!

    August 8, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  70. 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

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