Yongbyon Uranium Enrichment Facility

View All North Korea Facilities

Last Updated: September 30, 2011
Other Name: 영변우라늄농축시설
Location: Bungang-jigu (분강지구), Yongbyon-gun (영변군), Pyeonganbuk-do (평안북도), North Korea
Subordinate To: Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center (영변원자력연구센터), General Department of Atomic Energy (원자력총국), Cabinet (내각)
Size: 2,000 P-2 Centrifuges in 6 cascades; enrichment capacity of 8,000kg SWU per year; with an average enrichment level of 3.5 percent
Facility Status: Unknown

Located at the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center in what used to be the fuel fabrication building, this is the only confirmed uranium enrichment facility in North Korea, having been shown to visiting American nuclear experts in November 2010. [1] The "small industrial-scale" enrichment facility is reported to be "astonishingly modern" compared to other North Korean nuclear facilities. It is reported to contain 2,000 P-2 centrifuges in six cascades, and its enrichment capacity is estimated to be 8,000kg SWU/year with an average target enrichment level of 3.5 percent. This capacity is appropriate for the Experimental 25-30 MWe Light Water Reactor currently under construction nearby. However, weapon-grade uranium can be produced if cascades are reconfigured. [2]

In November 2010, visiting American experts were informed that construction of the facility began the previous year in April 2009 and that construction had completed just days before their arrival. The experts were skeptical such rapid progress was possible given the complex nature of enrichment facilities and specialty components required. [3] Many believed it could not be the first and only uranium enrichment facility, and that it was likely that other research-level uranium enrichment facilities existed. [4] Another scenario that has been suggested is that a previously built — but thus far hidden — facility was moved to the current Yongbyon location. [5] Nevertheless, during talks held in New York in July 2011, a senior North Korean diplomat insisted that this is the only uranium enrichment facility in the country. [6]

If the facility is indeed operational, North Korea could have enriched ~3.5 tons of UF6 to 3.5% by May 2012, which is consistent with the needs of the Experimental 25-30 MWe Light Water Reactor still under construction. [7]

Sources:
[1] Siegfried S. Hecker, "A Return Trip to North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Complex," Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, November 20, 2010, http://iis-db.stanford.edu.
[2] Siegfried S. Hecker, "A Return Trip to North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Complex," Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, November 20, 2010, http://iis-db.stanford.edu.
[3] Siegfried S. Hecker, “What I Found in North Korea,” Foreign Affairs, December 9, 2010, www.foreignaffairs.com.
[4] Mary Beth Nikitin, “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: Technical Issues,” CRS Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service, January 20, 2011.
[5] David Albright and Paul Brannan, “Satellite Image Shows Building Containing Centrifuges in North Korea,” ISIS Reports, Institute for Science and International Security, November 21, 2010.
[6] “한미, 북우라늄농축 ‘실체적 확인’ 가능할까 [Will Verification of North Korean Uranium Enrichment Program be Possible?],” Yonhap News Agency, August 9, 2011, yonhapnews.co.kr.
[7] Olli Heinonen, "The North Korean Nuclear Program in Transition," 38 North, April 26, 2012, http://38north.org.

Country Profile
Flag of North Korea
North Korea

This article provides an overview of North Korea's historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

Learn More →

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2017.