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North Korea Biological Facilities


North Korea Biological Facilities

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Biological Warfare: Organizations and Dual-Use Infrastructure

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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), 3 December 2001, in FBIS Document KPP20011203000106.
[3] ROK, Seoul, Ministry of National Defense, Hwasaengbang Misail Olmana Algo Kyesimnikka? 10 December 2001, p. 32.
[4] Kim Tu-hwan, “DPRK ‘Rostrum’ Rankings Sway Towards Military,” Yonhap, (Internet version), in Korean, 6 April 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, 21 October 1997.
[6] Pukhan Yongo 400 Sonjip, “DPRK Military Terms Defined,” 25 February 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, 19 December 2000, transcribed in FBIS Document KPP20001219000109.
[8] Yi Chae Sung, “Pukhannul Umjiginun T’ek’unok’uratu” [“Technocrats Who Move North Korea”], 25 August 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, 1 July 2001, p. 19, transcribed in FBIS Document KPP20010725000097.
[10] Nuclear, Chemical, Biological Warfare Research Detailed, Naeoe Tongsin, in Korean, No. 903, 9 June 1994, pp. B1-B4, translated in JPRS-TND-94-017, 8 September 1994, p. 4.

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Biological weapon (BW)
Biological weapons use microorganisms and natural toxins to produce disease in humans, animals, or plants.  Biological weapons can be derived from: bacteria (anthrax, plague, tularemia); viruses (smallpox, viral hemorrhagic fevers); rickettsia (Q fever and epidemic typhus); biological toxins (botulinum toxin, staphylococcus enterotoxin B); and fungi (San Joaquin Valley fever, mycotoxins). These agents can be deployed as biological weapons when paired with a delivery system, such as a missile or aerosol device.
WMD (weapons of mass destruction)
WMD: Typically refers to nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, though there is some debate as to whether chemical weapons qualify as weapons of “mass destruction.”
The common name of the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, as well as the name of the disease it produces.  A predominantly animal disease, anthrax can also infect humans and cause death within days.  B. anthracis bacteria can form hardy spores, making them relatively easy to disseminate.  Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the USSR/Russia have all investigated anthrax as a biological weapon, as did the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo.  Anthrax-laced letters were also used to attack the U.S. Senate and numerous news agencies in September 2001.  There is no vaccine available to the general public, and treatment requires aggressive administration of antibiotics.
Cholera: A disease of the digestive tract caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. A water-borne disease, cholera infections usually occur via contaminated water or foods. Cholera causes severe diarrhea followed by severe dehydration, and can result in death within hours or days. Sanitation in the developed world has greatly lessened cholera’s public health impact. Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army used cholera against the Chinese military and civilian populations during World War II.
Plague: The disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. There are three forms of plague: bubonic plague, pneumonic plague, and septicemic plague. Bubonic plague refers to infection of the lymph nodes by Y. pestis, causing black sores or “buboes,” pneumonic plague refers to infection of the lungs, and septicemic plague refers to infection of the bloodstream. Although no longer a serious public health hazard in the developed world, the bacterium can spread from person-to-person in aerosolized form, and has been investigated as a biological weapon by Japan and the Soviet Union.
Yellow fever virus
The virus that causes Yellow fever, a viral hemorrhagic fever.  Yellow fever is naturally transmitted by mosquitoes, and remains common in many tropical and semi-tropical areas, particularly in Africa.  Yellow fever patients experience two disease phases.  The first brings flu-like symptoms while the second phase, or “toxic phase,” brings severe pain, vomiting, kidney failure, and bleeding from the mouth, eyes, and stomach.  While only 15 to 25 percent of patients will develop the toxic phase, half of those who do die.  Very little open literature about possible weaponization of Yellow fever virus exists.
Dual-use item
An item that has both civilian and military applications. For example, many of the precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of chemical weapons have legitimate civilian industrial uses, such as the production of pesticides or ink for ballpoint pens.


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