North Korea flag

North Korea


Last Updated: February, 2013


Several facilities in the DPRK have been linked with the production and/or storage of chemical weapon (CW) agents, their raw chemicals and precursors. CW agents are then moved to either the Sakju (삭주) or Ganggye (강계)-based CW facilities for weaponization. Some of these facilities, including those that produce synthetic fibers (vinalon, also known as Juche Fiber (주체섬유), a polymer that is unique to North Korea), and basic chemicals such as as sulfuric acid and ammonia have been profiled in open sources (including North Korean print media). [1] Some of the active and reserve Nuclear and Chemical Defense battalions are also reportedly based at some of these chemical complexes. However, because photographs of some of these manufacturing sites have been published, and thus their location and other details compromised, one must consider their role in the military production of CW agents as questionable at best.

Relevant Individuals and Institutions

As part of a "heavy industry," chemicals are a key component to the command socialist economy in the DPRK, in which all production is under governmental control. With the emphasis of an economy based on military preparedness, it is not an exaggeration to say that all chemical production (as well as other segments of heavy industry) is militarized in the DPRK. It is not clear to what extent to which chemicals are diverted or produced for chemical warfare in North Korea.

Previously, Kim Jong Il and his military advisers had complete control over policy and procedure for production of armaments. It is expected that his son Kim Jong Un will operate in much the same way. The highest decision-making body in the DPRK for the military industry is the National Defense Commission (NDC). Directly subordinate to the NDC is the Second Economic Committee (SEC), which is the linchpin for much of North Korean development and production of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Created in the 1970s, the SEC is in charge of the planning, manufacturing, and distribution of all ordnance in the DPRK, including international trade in munitions. Located in Kangdong-kun, Pyongyang, the SEC consists of eight bureaus and 190 munitions factories. As of April 7, 2009, Baek Se-bong (백세봉), both NDC and Korean Worker's Party Central Committee member, was appointed director of the SEC. [2] The eight bureaus consist of a general affairs office, with seven others dealing specifically with a variety of weapons platforms and technologies:

  • First Machine Industry Bureau: small arms and ammunition
  • Second Machine Industry Bureau: tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs)
  • Third Machine Industry Bureau: multi-stage rockets
  • Fourth Machine Industry Bureau: guided missiles
  • Fifth Machine Industry Bureau: nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons
  • Sixth Machine Industry Bureau: battleships and submarines
  • Seventh Machine Industry Bureau: production and purchase of war planes [3]

With regard to North Korean chemical (CW) and biological (BW) weaponry, the Fifth Machine Industry Bureau is of most relevance. From an organizational perspective, the Ministry of Chemical Industry is actually separate from this line of command, but presumably is in coordination with production and transfer of chemical intermediates for CW agent manufacture.

Requirements are established by the Second Economic Committee, while the actual production of CW agents is carried out under the directive of the Fifth Machine Industry bureau. The filling, storage, and handling of munitions is carried out under the auspices of the Nuclear and Chemical Defense Bureau (NCDB) (핵 , 화학방위국). Directly subordinate to the General Staff Department (인민군총참부), the NCDB is responsible for defensive and offensive CW operations.

The Ganggye and Sakju munitions plants represent the meeting of nominally civilian chemical enterprises, under the titles of the Second Economic Committee's General Machine Industry Bureau and the Equipment Department of the NCDB. At Ganggye and Sakju, CW agents brought from the Fifth Machine Industry Bureau are filled into artillery (including mortar and artillery rocket) shells, which are requisitioned from the Third Machine Industry Bureau. Reportedly, chemical spray tanks and aerial munitions are also prepared at Sakju and Ganggye, and can be filled with CW agent from bulk storage at various airfields right before their use in wartime. Also associated with the offensive part of the chemical weapons apparatus, Factory No. 279 is responsible for defensive material, including decontamination chemicals, protective suits, and detection equipment. [4]

Following their final assembly and filling, chemical munitions are brought to "store offices" at the Maram Materials Corporation and the Jiha-ri Chemical Corporation, located in Maram-dong(마람동), Yonsong-guyok (용성구역), Pyongyang and Jiha-ri (지하리), Pangyo-gun (판교군), Gangwon-do (강원도), respectively. [5] Especially, Maram Materials Corporation was known as facility of three mine facilities and 4 meters tank. [6] Reportedly, North Korean chemical weapons stores are placed into underground tunnels, with bulk CW agents stored in large (12' high) tanks, along with CW defense equipment supplied from Factory No. 279. [7]

Comprising seven different units, the NCDB is actively involved in the research and development of weapons, as well as nuclear and chemical defense. These are divided into the following departments: operations, training, materials, technology, reconnaissance, section No. 32, and mining/underground facility operations. No. 32 — an organization of which very little is known — has been linked with research and development of chemical weapons and perhaps specialized warheads for chemical delivery on the Nodong-1. Two additional research institutes — No. 55 and No. 398 also operate under the aegis of the NCDB. The No. 55 research institute has about 70 on its research staff and is responsible for simulating nuclear and chemical contamination for decontamination operations and training. With approximately 250 researchers, the No. 398 research institute is involved in decontamination operations in both nuclear and chemical environments and is reportedly developing antidotes, masks, and suits. [8]

According to a 2002 ROK-based article, North Korea operates the following chemical troops: battalion (army corps), battery (division), and platoon (regiment). [9] The NCDB has its own department of operations, consisting of eight battalions. Two of these battalions, the 17th and 18th, are considered active, while the remaining (13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 27th and 36th) are on reserve. Some of the billets for these battalions have been identified in open literature:

  • 13th NCDB (reserve) Hamhung Vinalon Complex (함흥 비날론 연합 기업소)
  • 14th NCDB (reserve) Sunchon Vinalon Complex (순천 비날론 연합기업소)
  • 15th NCDB (reserve) The plant’s name is unknown
  • 16th NCDB (reserve) Namhung Youth Chemical Complex (남흥 청년 화학 연합 기업소)
  • 17th NCDB (active) Onjong-ri, Songchon-gun, Pyungannam-do (평안남도 성천군 온정리)
  • 18th NCDB (active) Sogam-ri, Pyongwon-gun, Pyongannam-do (평안남도 평원군 석암리)
  • 27th NCDB (reserve) Wonsan, Gangwon-do (North Korean Administrative District, South Korea regards Wonsan as Hamgyongnam-do), The plant’s name is unknown
  • 36th NCDB (reserve) Sariwon Potash Fertilizer Complex (사리원 카리비료 연합 기업소) [10]

The 18th Nuclear Chemical Defense Battalion consists of six companies. Lee Chung-Guk (이충국), a defector who claims to have served with the 18th Battalion, has diagrammed the locations of Factory No. 279 and the No. 398 Research Institute as below in the "Sogam-ri Recruit Training Center Facilities."

Lee Chung-Guk has also provided details about the organization of the 18th Nuclear and Chemical Defense Battalion, which may be similar to the 17th and other units held in reserve. According to him, the battalion had a nuclear/chemical reconnaissance company (1st Company), while the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th companies were described as "decontamination" units. The 6th company was responsible for flame-throwers and presumably obscurant smokes (also referred to as "Smoke Screen Company"). The latter had once been located in Sadong-guyok (사동구역), Pyongyang, and was transferred to the 18th Battalion in June 1993, also according to Lee. Interestingly, none of these companies that were described by Lee had specific duties with regard to offensive use of chemical weapons, but were responsible mainly for reconnaissance and decontamination operations. [12]

Funding for the Program

There is no clear evidence or route of funding for DPRK’s CW development. However, regarding DPRK’s current economic situation, most experts presume that cash inflow from abroad is the main source of the funding for development of chemical facilities. According to Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, DPRK’s activities for funding is mainly from missile exports, drug smuggling, and currency counterfeiting. [13]

Financial support from South Korea through Mt. Geumgang tourism development and Kaesong Industry Complex, and aircraft tolls in North Korea’s airspace is also suspected the origin of funding for DPRK’s chemical facilities’ development. [14]

Past, Present, and Planned Facilities

The DPRK has operated chemical warfare units since 1954, when it established a program for defensive measures against CW. Seven years later, Pyongyang elevated the department to a bureau, and started to develop chemical weapons. [15]

Knowledge of North Korea’s current or future plans for CW facilities is limited. In 2003, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency characterized North Korea as having a “sizeable, but ageing chemical industry,” possibly indicating that economic troubles or a preference for nuclear technology have hampered its ability to modernize its CW program, which by its nature has a short shelf-life. [16] According to South Korean Military, North Korea constructed new biochemical warfare production facility in Chagang-do in December 2010, but the facility’s status, purpose, and size are unknown. [17]

North Korea’s CW is suspected to export to mid-eastern countries. According to Yomiuri Shinbun on January 5, 2012, chemical ampoule (reagent) related to CW from North Korea to Syria was inspected and confiscated in Greece, and the UN is starting investigation. [18]

Nonetheless, North Korea has continued to illegally seek out dual-use CW precursors such as sodium cyanide (used for the blood-agent hydrogen cyanide) through its extensive procurement networks. [19]

[1] “혁명적대고조로 [New Year's Editorial - Great Revolutionary Upswing],” Uriminzokkiri, January 1, 2011,
[2] Shin Seok-ho, “北노동신문, 국방위원 전원 사진 이례적 공개 [North Rodong Newspaper Unprecedentedly Reveals all NDC Members’ Pictures],” Donga Ilbo, April 17, 2009,
[3] Ha Tae-won, “北산업원“ / 무기 대부분 독자생산 [State of DPRK Defense Industry Viewed]," Donga Ilbo, February 5, 2001.
[4] “Strategic Weapon System, Korea, North,” Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, July 5, 2010.
[5] “<북한은 지금> 北韓軍,核화학전 훈련 강화 (<DPRK Now> NK Army Enhances Nuclear and Chemical Training),” Yonhap News, June 11, 1994,; “Strategic Weapon System, Korea, North,” Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, July 5, 2010.
[6] "인민무력부, 전담국 설치 / 핵­화생방전훈련 대폭 강화 [Department of People's Armed Force Established Exclusive Team / Strongly Enhanced Nuclear and Biochemical Training]," Segye Ilbo, June 15, 1994, p.8.
[7] “Strategic Weapon System, Korea, North,” Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment, July 5, 2010.
[8] Choi Yeong-jae, "미국의 북한 생화학무기 압박 전략 [U.S. Strategy Pressuring DPRK on Biological, Chemical Weapons]," Shindong-a, January 1, 2002, pp. 300-313,
[9] Choi Yeong-jae, "미국의 북한 생화학무기 압박 전략 [U.S. Strategy Pressuring DPRK on Biological, Chemical Weapons]," Shindong-a, January 1, 2002, pp. 300-313,
[10] Seon Jong-gu, “북 핵¬화학방위국/핵¬생화학무기 총지휘 [DPRK, NCDB Manages Nuclear and Chemical Weapons),” Segye Ilbo, May 21, 1997, p.17.
[11] Lee Chung-guk, "Assignment to Antinuclear/Antiatomic Analysis Team," quoted in 金正一(キム・チョンイル)の核と軍隊 [Kim Jong-il's Nuclear Weapons and Army], September 21, 1994, pp. 101-110.
[12] Lee Chung-guk, "Assignment to Antinuclear/Antiatomic Analysis Team," quoted in 金正一(キム・チョンイル)の核と軍隊 [Kim Jong-il's Nuclear Weapons and Army], September 21, 1994, pp. 101-110.
[13] Choe Sang-hun, “U.S. Envoy Holds Talks on North Korea Sanctions,” The New York Times, August 2, 2010,
[14] Choe Sang-hun, “U.S. Envoy Holds Talks on North Korea Sanctions,” The New York Times, August 2, 2010,
[15] “North Korea’s Chemical and Biological Weapons Programs,” International Crisis Group, June 18, 2009.
[16] “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 July through 31 December 2003,” CIA,
[17] Kim Nam-gwon, “송영선 "北, 자강도에 생화학무기 제조시설 신축 [Song Young-seon, “North Constructed New Bio-chemical Weapon Production Facility”)", Yonhap News Agency, October 7, 2011,
[18] Yanagisawa Kyousi, “北朝鮮、シリアに化学兵器試薬輸出…国連調査へ [NK Exported Chemical Weapon Reagent to Syria… UN Inspection),” Yomiuri Shinbun, January 5, 2012,
[19] Stephanie Lieggi, “From Proliferator to Model Citizen? China’s Recent Enforcement of Nonproliferation-Related Trade Controls and its Potential Positive Impact in the Region,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, Summer 2010,

Facilities Descriptions


Biological Warfare: Organizations and Dual-Use Infrastructure

Even less is known about the North Korea biological warfare (BW) program and organization than its chemical warfare (CW) program, on which exists only a paucity of data. Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr. suggests that it follows similar lines as the DPRK CW infrastructure. If this is the case, the Second Economic Committee and its subsidiary Fifth Machine Industry Bureau would fulfill requirements for biological weapons set by the North Korean military. The National Defense Commission and the Ministry of People's Armed Forces direct the latter organizations. One South Korean newspaper account alleged the existence of more than 10 facilities responsible for producing biological weapons; some of these are disguised as electrical engineering concerns. In December 2001, a ROK Ministry of National Defense-produced handbook on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) contained a map showing the locations of suspected BW facilities in North Korea. These included three BW production and six BW research facilities. While the locations of the facilities of the latter group were not carefully identified, the three production sites were located somewhere along the coast (described simply as Sohae, Chongju, and Munchon).

A few of these facilities have been specifically linked to ongoing work in biological weapons research, development, and manufacture:

  • Research Institute of the Armed Forces Ministry (synonymous with the Bacterium Research Institute, Second Academy of Natural Sciences) is responsible for developing biological weapons.
  • Biological research facility, associated with the North Korean BW program, located in Songch'on County, South P'yongan Province, adjacent to the Onjong-ni chemical weapons facility; growth media is reportedly supplied (200 tons per annum) by a facility in Munch'on, Kangwon Province.
  • 25 Plant/February 25th Plant is a germ-producing facility located in Chongju, North P'yongan Province.
  • National Defense Research Institute and Medical Academy (NDRIMA) perform studies on disease pathogens such as the bacteria and viruses that cause anthrax, cholera, bubonic plague, smallpox, yellow fever, and others.

Few details are known about these facilities or precisely which microorganisms have been or are being weaponized, if any.

Reportedly, there exists within the organizational purview of the Nuclear and Chemical Defense Bureau a Chemical and Biological Defense Research Center, in Changsan-dong, Sosong-ku, Pyongyang, with two additional branches in Pyongwon County (South Pyongam Province). It is unknown to what extent this division is responsible for offensive BW work.

According to defector Choe Ju Hwal, a former sergeant in the North Korean People's Army, there exists a "Joint Research Institute" that is responsible for biological weapons development. This institute is placed within the military-medical department, under the command of the General Rear Service Bureau (GRSB) of the Ministry of People's Armed Forces. The following North Korea facilities have been reported to be conducting BW-related research:

  • (Germ) Research Institute, Second Academy of Natural Sciences
  • Sanitary Quarantine Institute (also known as the National Sanitary and Anti-Epidemic Center)
  • Institute of Microbiology
  • Research Institute of the Armed Forces Ministry
  • First Institute of Bacteriology
  • Second Institute of Bacteriology of Microbiological Diseases, Pyongsong Academy of Science Il-song University
  • Workers Party Central Biology Institute
  • Institute, Academy of Defense Sciences
  • Institute, Academy of Medical Science
  • Military Prevention Medical Unit (also known as the Preventive Military Medical Unit)
  • Munchon, Kangwon Province (agar growth media plant)
  • Defense Research Institute and Medical Academy (NDRIMA)
  • 25 February plant, Chongju, North Pyongan Province
  • Onjong-ni, Songchon County, South Pyongan Province
  • Paekma (rendered Paengma) Section Epidemic Control Center
  • Third Institute of Bacteriology
  • Medical College
  • Military Medical College
  • Institute (Mt. Taesong, P'yongyang)

Dual-use facilities/organizations

Various North Korean facilities can be construed as having dual-use purposes that is, could contribute to an infrastructure for the research and development of biological weapons:

  • Institute and Syringe Factory
  • Reagent Company
  • (Synthetic) Pharmaceutical Division of the Hamhung Clinical Medicine Institute Institute (Pyongyang)
  • Pharmaceutical Plant (located approximately 40 kilometers from P'yongyang)
  • Kyong-t'ae Endocrinology Institute
  • Sanitary Quarantine Institute, Ministry of Public Health (germ vaccination institute) also known as the National Sanitary and Anti-Epidemic Center, Moranbong District, P'yongyang

Other facilities that could be utilized for BW-related work include breweries and other fermentative operations, including breweries that possess significant capacity and potential for production of growth media (e.g., yeast extract). However, no evidence has yet surfaced linking any of these types of facilities with the alleged production of BW agents in North Korea.

[1] Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., The Armed Forces of North Korea (New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2001) p. 231.
[2] "DPRK Biological Research Institute's Developments in 'Germ Weapons' Detailed," Choson Ilbo (Internet version), December 3, 2001, in FBIS Document KPP20011203000106.
[3] ROK, Seoul, Ministry of National Defense, Hwasaengbang Misail Olmana Algo Kyesimnikka?, December 10, 2001, p. 32.
[4] Kim Tu-hwan, "DPRK 'Rostrum' Rankings Sway Towards Military," Yonhap, (Internet version), in Korean, April 6, 2001, translated in FBIS Document ID: KPP20010406000120.
[5] Testimony, Hearing of the International Security Proliferation and Federal Services Subcommittee of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Weapons Proliferation in North Korea, October 21, 1997.
[6] Pukhan Yongo 400 Sonjip, "DPRK Military Terms Defined," February 25, 2000, pp. 327-350, translated in FBIS, Document ID: KPP20000308000103.
[7] "Kim Jong Il Directs Newly Built Medicine Institute and Syringe Factory," KCNA, in English, December 19, 2000, transcribed in FBIS Document KPP20001219000109.
[8] Yi Chae Sung, "Pukhannul Umjiginun T'ek'unok'uratu" ["Technocrats Who Move North Korea"], August 25, 1998, pp. 180-197, translated in FBIS Document ID: FTS19991006001519.
[9] Song T'ae Chun, "A Dependable Sanitary and Anti-Epidemic Center," Korea Today, in English, July 1, 2001, p. 19, transcribed in FBIS Document KPP20010725000097.
[10] Nuclear, Chemical, Biological Warfare Research Detailed, Naeoe Tongsin, in Korean, No. 903, June 9, 1994, pp. B1-B4, translated in JPRS-TND-94-017, September 8, 1994, p. 4.

Facilities Descriptions



As the North Korean political leadership began issuing directives for the procurement and development of missiles in the 1960s, North Korea began to establish the educational institutions to train engineers and technicians to sustain a missile development program. The Soviet Union and China initially provided basic technical and training assistance, as well as deliveries of rockets and anti-ship missiles. North Korean engineers have also gone abroad, especially to China, for training in basic aerospace engineering.

According to North Korean defectors, the Korea National Defense College in Kanggye, Chagang Province, has a "Rocket Engine Department" and the college provides instruction on the "production, operation procedures, and launching of missiles."[1] North Korea's top universities such as Kim Il Sung University, Kim Chaek University of Technology, and the Pyongsong College of Science have programs in science and engineering that would have applications to rocket and missile development. The Science and Education Department under the Korean Workers Party Central Committee exercises overall supervision of science curricula, but the Department of Higher Education in the Ministry of Education manages the administrative affairs of colleges and universities.[2]

The "Number Seven Factory" under the Second Natural Science Academy does design and development work before it produces missile prototypes. This facility is probably the same facility known as the "San'um-dong Factory" or "San'um-dong Missile Research Center." The Second Natural Science Academy is the research and development organization in charge of all weapons development in North Korea. The academy probably draws upon human resources from other scientific institutions under the Academy of Sciences, but the extent of this collaboration is unknown.

Missiles require a tremendous number of components and materials, including steel, semiconductors, and chemicals. North Korea has an industrial base and precision machine tool industry to support missile production. In recent years, North Korea has made efforts to modernize its steel plants and machine tool factories in order to increase production, efficiency and precision. North Korea has been known to import components for its weapons systems, but the level of self-sufficiency in the production of missile components and materials is uncertain. The Second Economic Committee under the National Defense Commission is responsible for all weapons production in North Korea, and the committee's Fourth Machine Industry Bureau, which is also known as the "Fourth General Bureau" or the "Missile Bureau," manages overall missile production.[3] Many of these production facilities are located underground in Chagang Province near the Chinese border.

The Missile Division under the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces commands at least 18 ballistic missile bases in North Korea. Many of these bases are likely to have a number of alternative launch pads near the missile storage site, which effectively increases the number of locations to launch missiles from their mobile transporter-erector launchers (TELs). Chiha-ri Missile Base in Chiha-ri, P'an'gyo-kun, Kangwon Province, is a support base for the Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6 and is probably also a launch site. A number of surface-to-ship missiles have been deployed to the Mayang Island Missile Base, which is co-located with a large base for submarine production and repairs.[4]

The National Defense Commission has ultimate command and control of the North Korean missile inventory, but little is known about Pyongyang's missile doctrine or the Missile Division's operating procedures. The National Defense Commission also has ultimate control over North Korea's missile exports, which represent a significant source of foreign exchange. The Yong'aksan Trading Company under the Second Economic Committee's External Economic Bureau handles missile exports, and the Ch'anggwang Credit Bank receives payment from buyers.[5] The foreign exchange earnings from missile exports have enabled Pyongyang to continue or expand its procurement of components and technology from abroad in order to continue the missile development program. Unfortunately, there is no reliable open source information about North Korea's internal budget or expenditures on ballistic missiles.

[1] Interview with North Korean defector "Kenki Aoyama" by Mari Sudo, research associate, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 20 October 2002, Chiba Prefecture, Japan; Pak Hong Gi and Kim Chae Sun, "Kwisun Pukhan'oe'gyo'gwan Ko Yong Hwan Ssi 1 Mun 1 Tap," Taehan Maeil, 14 September 1991, p. 3, in KINDS,
[2] South Korea Ministry of Unification, Pukhan Kaeyo 2000 (Seoul: ROK Ministry of Unification, 1999), p. 488.
[3] Ha T'ae Won, "Puk Kunsusan'op Hyonjuso/Mugi Taebubun Tokchasaengsan," Donga Ilbo, 5 February 2001, p. 3, in KINDS,; Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., The Armed Forces of North Korea (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001), pp. 45-54.
[4] Interview with North Korean defector Im Yong Son by Daniel A. Pinkston, senior research associate, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 14 December 2001, Seoul.
[5] Lee Kyo Kwan, "[NK Report] Pukhan Missile Such'ul Oddohke Hana?" Chosun Ilbo, 5 March 2002,; Yi Kyo-kwan, "How Does North Korea Export Missiles?" Chosun Ilbo, 5 March 2002, in "DPRK Said to Export Body, Main Parts of Missiles Separately," FBIS Document ID KPP20020305000112.

Facilities Descriptions

Missile-Research and Development


North Korea's nuclear facilities span the complete nuclear fuel cycle, with most of these facilities concentrated in Yongbyon County, North Pyongan Province. This area contains a number of research and development institutes, as well as educational facilities to train the human resources to sustain North Korea's nuclear program, for both civilian and military purposes.[1] The Yongbyon nuclear complex includes a small research reactor called the IRT-2000, a 5MW(e) gas-graphite moderated reactor, an unfinished 50MW(e) reactor, a spent fuel reprocessing facility, and multiple waste storage sites. However, the 5MW(e) reactor's cooling tower was destroyed in 2008 as part of the Six-party Talks disablement agreement, and a uranium enrichment facility and light water reactor have since been added.[2] There is also an unfinished and abandoned 200MW(e) nuclear reactor in Taechon County, North Pyongan Province, but work on it was frozen under the Agreed Framework of October 1994. North Korea maintains a testing facility at Punggye-ri, where it tested nuclear devices in 2006, 2009, and 2013. Additionally, North Korea maintains multiple uranium mining and milling sites, as well as research and development facilities.

Relevant Individuals and Institutions

The General Department of Atomic Energy under the Cabinet has direct responsibility for the operation and management of facilities dedicated to electricity generation. Nominally, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) elects and removes cabinet officials, but the SPA Presidium is empowered to act on behalf of the SPA when it is not in session. Ultimately, the General Department of Atomic Energy is subordinate to a small number of officials who hold senior positions in the Korean Workers' Party (KWP), the government, and the military.[3] The Academy of Sciences manages most of the research institutions that could be described as "dual-use," and the National Defense Commission has ultimate authority over military applications involving nuclear technology and materials.

The Second Economic Committee (SEC) under the National Defense Commission is responsible for the production of all weapons in North Korea, and the SEC's Fifth Machine Industry Bureau — also known as the "Fifth General Bureau" — is responsible for the production of nuclear weapons.

The Second Natural Science Institute, also known as the National Defense Institute, is responsible for all weapons research and development in North Korea, but it likely collaborates with the Academy of Sciences and the Second Economic Committee's Fifth Machine Industry Bureau in the area of nuclear weapons research. The Second Natural Science Institute also conducts research and development for the ballistic missile program, and almost certainly is tasked with responsibility for the design of nuclear warheads suitable for ballistic missiles.[4]

The Nuclear Chemical Defense Bureau (NCDB) under the General Staff Department in the Ministry of People's Armed Forces is responsible for managing the research and development of defensive measures against nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks. The NCDB consists of seven departments and three research institutes, including the "55th Research Institute" or Nuclear and Atomic Defense Laboratory, which runs simulations and estimates damage and fallout from possible nuclear attacks.[5] North Korean doctrine and operating procedures regarding the storage and use of nuclear weapons are unknown, but the National Defense Commission would have ultimate authority over nuclear weapons storage, deployment, and possible use.

Funding for the Program

Little is known about the budget-making process of the Second Economic Committee and its subordinate bureaus.[6] However, a special fund called the "Kim Il Sung fund," the "presidential fund," or the "Number 710 fund" is reportedly used to import materials and technologies for the nuclear program. Ultimate control of this fund is almost certainly exercised by Kim Jong Un and the National Defense Commission, but details are unknown.[7]

Past, Present and Planned Facilities

Pyongyang closely guards information about its nuclear facilities; however several trends can be seen in North Korea's nuclear facilities. Construction on the 50MW(e) reactor at Yongbyon and the 200MW(e) reactor at Taechon was never completed. A North Korean official has since described the facilities as "ruined concrete structures and iron scrap."[8] North Korea's newest facilities focus on uranium uranium enrichment.[9] Meanwhile, North Korea revealed a uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon in 2010, and is constructing a light-water reactor in the near vicinity, which may be operational by 2014.[10]

[1] "Production Capability, Nuclear, Korea, North," Jane's Information Group, 7 January 2010.
[2] "No Construction at Yongbyon Site," ISIS, 4 September 2008,; Siegfried S. Hecker, "A Return Trip to North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Complex," Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, 20 November 2010,
[3] "Production Capability, Nuclear, Korea, North," Jane's Information Group, 7 January 2010.
[4] Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "North Korea's Deadly Industries Revealed," Jane's Defence Weekly, 12 November 1997, pp. 54-57.
[5] "Chemical Directorate," Federation of American Scientists, 22 November 1998,
[6] "Production Capability, Nuclear, Korea, North," Jane's Information Group, 7 January 2010.
[7] Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., "A New Emphasis on Operations against South Korea?" 38 North, 11 June 2010,
[8] Siegfried S. Hecker, "A Return Trip to North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Complex," Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, 20 November 2010,
[9] Siegfried S. Hecker, "A Return Trip to North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Complex," Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, 20 November 2010,
[10] Siegfried S. Hecker, "A Return Trip to North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Complex," Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, 20 November 2010,; "North Korea Resumes Construction of Light Water Reactor: Completion of Buildings May Be Near," 38North, 16 May 2012,

Facilities Descriptions

Nuclear-Research Reactors
Nuclear-Waste Management
Get the Facts on North Korea
  • Conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013, and 2016
  • Not party to the CWC and believed to possess 2,500-5,000 metric tons of chemical weapons
  • Active exporter of ballistic missile components, technology, and design data

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2016.