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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Kumchangni / Kumchang-ri / Geumchang-ri

Facilities suspected of being part of a secret missile base were spotted in a mountainous area of northwestern North Korea. Citing analysis firm Strategic Sentinel, Voice of America reported 29 December 2016 that satellite images taken over the past few years of an area near the Kumchang-ri region showed wide roads going in and out and buildings that appeared to be storing missiles. The location is around 20 kilometers away from where the South Korean military pinpointed North Korea's Musudan missile test in October 2016.

The report said the suspected missile is the same shape and size as missile sheds used in Iran. This raised new suspicions Pyongyang and Tehran could be cooperating in missile development. But, according to a South Korean government source, the facility did not appear to be a missile facility and did not seem to be of any significant military interest.

The images, analyzed by Strategic Sentinel, a firm that deals with geospatial image processing, intelligence analysis and geopolitical research, exposed a missile silo in mountainous Geumchang-ri, North Pyongan Province, where the U.S. intelligence community said in the late 1990s there was a nuclear weapons site. The silo, an underground chamber used for storing and firing missiles, seems analogous to the one at a missile base in Tabriz, Iran, with the same 7.4-meter-wide sliding cover and the same type of exhaust vents, the intelligence consultancy told VOA.

That U.S.-based group added that this rectangular-shaped structure appears large enough to house current North Korean missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads that can strike neighboring countries like South Korea and Japan. "If this Iranian site is housing missiles and the North Korean site that we have uncovered is the exact same dimension, then it's quite possible that the site that we have uncovered is housing missiles as well," said Ryan Barenklau, founder of Strategic Sentinel, also suggesting a possible nuclear cooperation between the two countries.

The US government investigated whether North Korea was pursuing nuclear weapons activities in massive underground caverns at Kumchangni [Qum Chang], between Kusong County and T'aech'on County, about 50 miles northwest of the nuclear research center at Yongbyon. This previously unreported facility is separate from the nearby Sakchu chemical weapons and missile facilities.

According to South Korean reports, 3,000 volt high-tension wire was built around an artificial lake, which included an artificial island, and a large military force surrounded the region, which is isolated, like a nuclear facility. Excavation of this 400,000 cubic meter facility could accommodate a 200 megawatt-class graphite-moderated reactor.

On 23 October 1998 opposition lawmaker Rep. Kim Deog-ryong of the opposition Grand National Party [GNP] claimed that "Large-scale projects to build nuclear facilities are under way in Kumchang and Taechon, north of Yongbyon." He claimed that the Kumchang facility is presumed to include reactors and a reprocessing plant, which he said will be put into operation in four to six years. "The installations will be able to extract an amount of plutonium large enough to produce one nuclear weapon in six to 12 months after they start operations in 2002 or 2003.... North Korea will soon be able to produce a sufficient amount of plutonium for the manufacture of eight to 10 nuclear weapons every year." He said the participation of elite engineers, the installation of electric wiring and the construction of a water-storage dam for the reactors prove that they are nuclear facilities.

The United States raised its concerns with the DPRK about this suspect underground site under construction, possibly intended to support nuclear activities contrary to the Agreed Framework. In March 1999, the United States reached agreement with the DPRK for visits by a team of US experts to the facility. In May 1999, a Department of State team visited the underground facility at Kumchang-ni. The team was permitted to conduct all activities previously agreed to help remove suspicions about the site.

On 25 June 1999 the US Government Report on the US Visit to the Site at Kumchang-ni concluded that excavation of the complex, as currently configured, was almost complete but a great deal of additional finishing work remained to be done with almost all of the tunnels still bare rock. Given the current size and configuration of the underground area, the Report found that the site is unsuitable for the installation of a plutonium production reactor, especially a graphite-moderated reactor of the type North Korea has built at Yongbyon. The site is also not well designed for a reprocessing plant. The US government concluded that the site at Kumchang-ni does not contain a plutonium production reactor or a reprocessing plant either completed or under construction. Given the current size and configuration of the underground area, the site is unsuitable for the installation of a plutonium production reactor - especially a graphite moderated reactor of the type North Korea has built at Yongbyon. The site is also not well designed for a reprocessing plant. Nevertheless, since the site is a large underground area, it could support such a facility in the future with substantial modifications.

The 1999 inspection of the suspected nuclear underground facility at Kumchang-ni substantiated North Korea's claim that they were not operating a nuclear weapons facility at that location and that the Agreed Framework was not abrogated. A subsequent inspection of the facility in May 2000 reaffirmed that assessment.

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Page last modified: 12-01-2017 18:41:11 ZULU