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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

Reuters May 11, 2005

Yongbyon, heart of North Korea's nuclear programmes

SEOUL, May 11 (Reuters) - Yongbyon, about 100 km (60 miles) north of North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, is the centre of the communist state's nuclear programmes.

North Korea has completed extracting nuclear fuel rods at its Yongbyon plant and taken steps to expand its nuclear arsenal, a Foreign Ministry spokesman announced on Wednesday through the official KCNA news agency.

Following are key facts about the complex.


An operational five-megawatt nuclear reactor is the centre of the Yongbyon complex. Nuclear experts consider it to be the major source of fuel for the country's nuclear programmes.

A larger, 50-megawatt reactor was under construction from the 1980s but it was suspended after a 1994 Agreed Framework agreement with the United States.

South Korean officials and experts say a radiochemical laboratory at the site is probably used for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel extracted from the reactor. The lab, about 3 km (1.9 miles) from the five-megawatt reactor, was being prepared for operation in mid-2003 but there was never conclusive evidence that it had been restarted, the officials said.

The complex, buried in low-lying hills in the western part of the secretive country, hugs a winding river that runs through its centre and sparsely positioned facilities.


International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors were expelled from the site and the country at the end of December 2002, making any assessment of operations at the complex uncertain.

IAEA inspections had taken place in the early 1990s, but inspectors were barred from some areas of the site, including the reprocessing plant.


Yongbyon's five-megawatt reactor was shut and sealed under the 1994 Agreed Framework agreement.

An international consortium led by the United States, South Korea, Japan and the European Union was to provide two proliferation-proof reactors in the north-eastern region of Kumho, in return for the freeze at Yongbyon.

The consortium also agreed to provide 500,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil annually under the agreement until the reactors were ready.

The agreement was effectively nullified at the end of 2002.

Seals placed by international inspectors at Yongbyon were broken in early 2003 and the North unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


Satellite images show craters in the complex, apparently the remains of explosives tests conducted in the 1980s. There was no evidence of aerial tests, which would indicate North Korea has mounted nuclear warheads on missiles. (Sources: GlobalSecurity.org Web site, South Korean government officials and experts, media reports)

Copyright 2005, Reuters