The Yongbyon nuclear facility is considered North Korea's only plutonium facility with a capacity to enrich uranium. Reprocessing plutonium and enriching uranium are the two pathways of nuclear weapons development.
North Korea offered to dismantle the Yongbyon facility twice before. Pyongyang announced its willingness to dismantle the facility and shut the main reactor in Yongbyon in the early 1990s under an agreement reached with the U.S., but restarted it in 2003 when the deal broke down. Under a 2007 deal, North Korea said it was willing to dismantle Yongbyon and shut down the reactor, only to reopen it again when that deal fell apart.
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former U.N. nuclear weapons inspector, said Trump probably walked away from the Febryar 2019 Hanoi summit because the U.S. government knows that North Korea can produce nuclear weapons elsewhere. "One could argue that Yongbyon produces enough plutonium and could be making weapons-grade uranium ... for two, three nuclear weapons a year," Albright said. "They can have enough enrichment facilities outside Yongbyon to make that same number a year."
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program (EANP) at California's Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said in March 2019, "The U.S. government believes there are at least two additional enrichment plants." Lewis said he and colleagues at the Middlebury Institute's James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies identified one of those plants. The facility is known as the Kangson enrichment site by the U.S. intelligence community.
Olli Heinonen, former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has inspected Yongbyon in the past. He said North Korea could easily hide its uranium enrichment facilities because North Korea uses centrifuge technology to enrich uranium, which allows it to disguise them.
There are reportedly as many as 22 nuclear facilities in 18 locations in North Korea. These include uranium mines, refinery plants, nuclear fuel plants, nuclear reactors, reprocessing facilities, and research facilities.
By the mid-1990s North Korea had atomic energy research centers in Yongbyon and Sunchon and an atomic power plant under construction in Sinpo. Nuclear weapons development organs include the Atomic Energy Department of Kim Il-song University; the Physics Department of Kanggye Defense College; the metal science department under the Chemical Department of and the physics Research Institute of Pyongsong College of Science; the college of physics in Yongbyon atomic research center; and uranium mines in Kusong in North Pyongan province, an unidentified place in North Hwanghae province, and Sunchon in South Pyongan province. Natural uranium had been processed near the cities of Sunchon and Pyongsan since the 1960s.
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