Uranium enrichment in North Korea continued in Yongbyon with expansion, analyst says
July 19 (UPI) – A former official with the International Atomic Energy Agency said it is likely that North Korea will have produced 540 kilograms, or 1,190 pounds, of highly enriched uranium at its Yongbyon nuclear facility by end of 2020.
Olli Heinonen, former IAEA deputy director general, said in a recently released analysis to 38 North that the production of military-grade uranium has become the foundation of North Korea’s “ability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons ”.
Heinonen said that North Korea’s uranium enrichment plant in Yongbyon was first known in 2010, then expanded from 2013 to 2014, “gradually increasing capacity as infrastructure is installed. necessary continued ”.
North Korea began building a “great enrichment hall” after the IAEA inspectors were expelled in April 2009 from Yongbyon. Yongbyon’s blue-roofed “Hall 1” was built that summer, the analyst said.
Pyongyang continued to expand its facilities after 2009. Satellite images from June 2013 show that North Korea built “Hall 2”, similar in size to Hall 1.
Members of an American team from Stanford University led by Siegfried Hecker learned in 2010 that Hall 1 could hold 2,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment, according to Heinonen.
After the expansion, North Korea by the end of 2020 could theoretically have produced up to 705 kilograms, or about 1,550 pounds, of highly enriched uranium. But the analyst said “the facility may not have run at its estimated full capacity,” and actual production may have been closer to 540 kilograms at the end of last year.
“Given that the 5 megawatt North reactor has not been operating since 2018 and the [Experimental Light Water Reactor] is still unfinished, the uranium enrichment plant now appears to serve as the backbone of the country’s fissile material production program, ”the analyst said.
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said in June that North Korea’s nuclear facilities were active, including a facility in Kangson designed to produce uranium-235.