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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Pyongsan 38°19'04"N 126°25'58"E / 38.3178, 126.4327
Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant
Nam-chon Chemical Complex

On 29 May 2020, the Center for Strategic and International Studies released images of the facility in Pyongsan, North Hwanghae province, that were acquired in March 2020. The plant extracts material from ore to produce enriched uranium, and is critical to Pyongyang's nuclear program. Experts at CSIS said the images showed waste created by the operation of the plant. They said smoke can be seen coming from buildings. The center says dismantling the plant would be essential to any meaningful denuclearization agreement. It is "the sole known producer of uranium concentrate (yellowcake) in the country since the mid-1990s, when it superseded the Pakchon Pilot Uranium Concentrate Facility."

Imagery in 2015 showed that the major mill that turns uranium ore into yellowcake, a first step toward enriching uranium, had recently been refurbished. Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said "Pyongyang appears to be modernizing a key facility associated with the production of uranium yellowcake”.

Lewis wrote a report for 38 North,a Web site run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “Since 2013, most of the buildings have received new roofs. The terminus of the conveyor belt was demolished and rebuilt.... Other buildings appear to have been gutted and are now in the process of being rebuilt with new roofing. The significant investment in refurbishing the mill suggests that North Korea is expecting to process significant amounts of uranium, either from the Pyongsan mine or other uranium mines.”

The Pyongsan Uranium Mine was included in an appendix to North Korea’s initial report submitted to the IAEA in May 1992. North Korean uranium mines are located in Kusong in North Pyongan province, Pyongsan in North Hwanghae province, and Sunchon in South Pyongan province. Natural uranium has been processed near the cities of Sunchon and Pyongsan since the 1960's. There are two coal mines in Pyongsan -- Kumdongsan and Kumchon -- as well as three mineral mines where fluorite, uranium, and copper are produced. Pyongsan is a representative uranium mine, and a uranium refinery is being operated near there. The refinement facility is said to been completed around 1984, and to have begun operation sometime between 1986 and 1990. Some sources claim that there is also a uranium "enrichment" facility located here, but this may reflect an inadequate understanding of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Pyongsan On June 18, 2014 Chang-Hoon Shin, Director of the Center for Global Governance at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, testified before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations House of Representatives that " According to the testimony of the interviewed defectors, the working conditions in Pyongsan uranium mine are better in some regards and worse in other aspects than the conditions that exist in conventional mines.... the interviewee stated that the workers were well-fed with special foods that were not distributed to ordinary citizens in North Korea. However, the workers were forced to labor almost every day of the week like prisoners in ordinary prison camps.... the work was extremely stressful and intense because of the increasing number of patients (sick workers) in his unit. During certain periods of time, he witnessed that only half of the unit members were available for work."

In 2019 a peer-reviewed CISAC study identified 18 additional sites in North Korea where the hyperspectral signatures and geological profile combine to suggest the possibility of uranium mining. Nevertheless, CISAC and Jane’s stress that the presence of these ‘hotspots’ does not imply the presence of an active uranium mine or related facility, but rather a site that warrants further analysis.

In January 1997 Taiwan negotiated a deal with North Korea for the disposal of 200,000 barrels of low-level radioactive waste. Taiwan is to ship 60,000 barrels, each containing 400 kilograms of nuclear waste, to the North for storage at a price of $75 million. Taiwan, which currently reportedly has 160,000 barrels of spent fuel in three locations, also has an option to ship another 140,000 barrels at $152.6 million. The agreement between Taiwan and North Korea also provides for $2.4 million for setting up the storage facility in a depleted mine in the remote town of Pyongsan, located about midway between the North Korean capital and Seoul.


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