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38 North: Plutonium Production, New Construction Ongoing at Yongbyon Complex

38 North: Plutonium Production, New Construction Ongoing at Yongbyon Complex

The U.S.-based North Korea monitoring website 38 North says that satellite imagery indicates that operations are underway at a Yongbyon nuclear reactor and support infrastructure at several key facilities throughout the complex is being expanded.

In a Friday article, 38 North said these developments reflect the North’s intention to continue advancing its nuclear weapons program.

It said that imagery indicates the five-megawatt electrical(MWe) reactor has been operating since July last year, as evidenced by a consistent presence of water discharge from the cooling system into the Kuryong River and light vehicle activity around the reactor building throughout this time period. 

But the report said that to date, there have been no signs of fuel rod discharge or shipment of spent fuel to the Radiochemical Laboratory, a necessary pre-step to being able to separate plutonium from the spent fuel.

It went on to say that based on imagery from August 24, a plume was observed from a building that has been used for hydrogen fluoride handling, but the plume has not been seen in subsequent imagery. Hydrogen fluoride is a chemical used to enrich uranium, a key component of nuclear weapons.

38 North also said that construction has been underway throughout the Yongbyon complex in recent months including a new building that appears to be under construction in a field adjacent to an underground facility located east of the 50 MWe reactor complex. It added that earlier this year, some trench work was done in this area, although the purpose is still unclear.

[Photo : YONHAP News]

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