Published On: Mon, Nov 2nd, 2020

North Korea news: Satellite spots nuclear site ramping up ‘unknown’ activity after floods | World | News

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Satellite photos showed Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea’s primary nuclear facility, putting out mysterious smoke clouds last week. The facility was forced to shut down earlier this year after floods struck the area, damaging key components of its uranium-handling process. A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency released last month also stoked fears North Korea has ramped up its nuclear energy efforts.

North Korea think-tank 38North reported the renewed activity in Yongbyon after satellites snapped the smoke clouds coming out of one of the main towers of the facility’s Uranium Enrichment Plant Complex.

The pictures were taken on October 27 by Maxar Techonologies, which also showed three specialised railcars at the east end of the complex.

The think-tank claimed the building was historically used to recover and purify uranium, and occasionally leached solutions from uranium milling facilities.

But 38North has said “what is taking place now is unclear”.

READ MORE: Kim Jong-un issues shoot-to-kill orders in brutal North Korea coronavirus crackdown

The presence of smoke and vapour led 38North to believe the facility is undertaking uranium dioxide production or some other similar operation.

The IAEA’s report also observed that the UEP was ramping up activity, but stressed they could not confirm their reports unless they had access to the facility.

38North wrote: “The most puzzling observation is what the website calls gaseous effluent – i.e., vapours or smoke – coming from the top of a building in the uranium enrichment plant complex where such effluent has never before been observed.

“According to the analysts, the building is a refractory furnace used to produce uranium dioxide, a material that can be used for power plant fuel or further enriched for use in nuclear weapons or to simply create more efficient fuel.”

The North Korean experts previously reported in August that flooding damaged Yongbyon’s pump houses.

Their study of satellite images from August 6 to 11 led 38North to claim the facility is highly vulnerable to extreme weather events.

They said: “Damage to the pumps and piping within the pump houses presents the biggest vulnerability to the reactors.

“If the reactors were operating, for instance, the inability to cool them would require them to be shut down.”

Since then, Yongbyon is believed to have been closed for repairs until the new images showed the facility back in operation.

Other activity reported by 38North and Maxar showed repair operations are ongoing on Yongbyon’s cooling water reservoir overflow dam in the Kuryong River.

They also reported the ongoing construction of an unknown building in the facility at the Main Research and Administrative Headquarters Area.

The facility is crucial for North Korea’s push towards nuclear missiles, with it previously producing the fissile material for Kim Jong-un’s regime’s first six tests.

In a summit with US President Donald Trump in 2019, Mr Kim offered to dismantle the site in exchange for partial relief from sanctions.

Washington rebuffed the offer and pushed for North Korea to accept denuclearisation.



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