A look into North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex

By Yonhap
  • Published : Sept 19, 2018 - 20:50
  • Updated : Sept 19, 2018 - 20:56

North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Complex has again come under media spotlight, as the North’s leader Kim Jong-un promised Wednesday to conditionally shut down its facilities during his summit talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang.

According to the inter-Korean summit agreement signed by Moon and Kim, North Korea is willing to permanently dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facilities in exchange for reciprocal measures by the United States.

The Yongbyon complex reportedly has more than 390 buildings, and three of them -- a 5 megawatt-electric reactor, a radiochemistry lab also known as a reprocessing facility and a nuclear fuel rod production facility -- are mentioned as the first to be destroyed.

A picture of Yongbyon nuclear reactor's cooling tower being destroyed in 2008 as part of North Korea's denuclearization efforts (Yonhap)

The three facilities once underwent a disabling process under a six-nation agreement reached in 2007. Dismantlement of the facilities will halt additional production of plutonium, one of the key materials for nuclear bombs.

In addition to those, a uranium enrichment plant capable of producing highly enriched uranium is also mentioned as another candidate to be dismantled.

Nuclear experts in Seoul speculate that Yonbyon’s uranium enrichment plant has expanded in scale over the past decade, and the number of centrifuges there is estimated to have doubled to over 2,000.

In addition, Yongbyon’s light water reactor, which can be operated with low-enriched uranium produced by the enrichment plant, may emerge as a facility to be shut down, depending on future negotiations.

The United States is expected to show more interest in the uranium enrichment facilities than in the dilapidated plutonium production facilities.

As some uranium enrichment facilities are believed to be hidden outside the Yongbyon complex, like in Kangson, however, a heated controversy could erupt in the negotiation process, watchers say.

The U.S. is expected to demand the destruction of all enrichment facilities in and outside the Yongbyon complex, but North Korea may offer a different opinion, they note.

Seoul’s nuclear experts said facilities necessary for the production of hydrogen bombs should also be included in the list of facilities to be dismantled.

“Because it is not clear whether the hydrogen bomb-related facilities are all located within the Yongbyon complex, another controversy could occur in the process of negotiations,” an expert said. (Yonhap)