North Korea can get all the uranium it needs to create nuclear weapons at its plant in Pyongsan, as well as producing much more nuclear fuel than it currently does, concluded a new academic study that analyzed satellite imagery of tailings piles.
Despite a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons testing since 2017, North Korea has said it continues to build its arsenal and, this year, appears to have restarted a reactor that would be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
According to a survey published last month in the magazine Science & Global Security by researchers at Stanford University and an Arizona-based mining consulting firm, North Korea may be able to ramp up production and does not need other uranium plants.
“It is clear that the DPRK appears to have substantially more capacity than it has used so far,” the report said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“This means that the DPRK could produce much larger amounts of processed natural uranium if it wanted to.”
The Pyongsan uranium concentration facility and its associated mine are the only publicly recognized source of yellowcake, or uranium ore, in North Korea, according to analysts.
The new study comes shortly after other satellite images show that North Korea is building a major expansion of its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which analysts say could be used to produce uranium for weapons.
“Given the DPRK’s active nuclear program, it is of utmost importance to assess and understand its capacity to produce nuclear materials,” wrote the study authors, who submitted their findings in April.
These capabilities govern the rate at which North Korea can expand its nuclear arsenal, determine the magnitude of the threat to international security and the challenge of potential nuclear disarmament, and measure Pyongyang’s ability to fuel its future nuclear energy program, he said. the report.
Growing nuclear arsenal
The question of how many nuclear weapons North Korea has is a key question for intelligence agencies in South Korea and the United States, as well as any negotiations aimed at limiting or reducing the North Korean arsenal.
The United States, which wants Pyongyang to surrender its nuclear arsenal, has said it is open to a meeting with North Korea without preconditions.
North Korea, meanwhile, says negotiations will only be possible after the US and its allies abandon what it considers hostile policies.
North Korean nuclear weapons intelligence is limited, but David Albright, president of the Institute of Science and International Security, told the Reuters which estimates that the country has the capacity to produce material for four to six warheads per year.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in September that “North Korea’s nuclear program is in full swing with work on plutonium separation, uranium enrichment and other activities.”
There were no reports of outside inspectors gaining access to the Pyongsan uranium mine after the IAEA visit in 1992, leaving the details of the plant uncertain, the academic report said.
The authors used artificial intelligence algorithms developed by Orbital Insight, a California-based geospatial analysis company, to analyze satellite imagery for land-use patterns around the Pyongsan facility.
The mine’s yellowcake is a key component of North Korea’s nuclear fuel production, including its 5-megawatt (MW) reactor, which is seen as capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.
The IAEA and other analysts reported mid-year that the reactor appeared to be operating for the first time since 2018.
Reference: CNN Brasil