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Kim Il Sung University

  • Location
    Ryongnam-dong (룡남동), Daesong-kuyok (대성구역), Pyongyang (평양시), North Korea
  • Type
    Nuclear-Research and Development
  • Facility Status

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Kim Il Sung University was founded in October 1946 as North Korea’s top university. Since North Korea signed the founding agreement and charter of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) at Dubna in the USSR in 1956, the university has been conducting research and training students in the nuclear field. [Note: JINR is also called the “United Institute of Nuclear Research” or the “Dubna Atomic Energy Research Institute.”] In the late 1950’s, the university established a nuclear reactor engineering program (핵원자로공학과) and started to send students to JINR for training. 1 According to defector Ko Yong Hwan (고영환), the university established a nuclear physics program (핵물리학과) in 1959, but the (South) Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute says the program was established in 1973. 2 These programs are under the Atomic Energy Department (원자력학부), which is one of eight departments in the College of Natural Sciences. The university also has the Atomic Energy Research Institute, but the institute’s date of establishment is not clear. The nuclear physics curriculum has included courses in nuclear electronics, nuclear fuels, and nuclear reactors.

According to South Korea’s Technology Center for Nuclear Control, Kim Il Sung University has a sub-critical assembly (미임계시설) for educational use. 3 In 1981, the university reportedly had research facilities for nuclear electronics, solid state physics, materials research, electron microscopy, and X-ray spectrometry. The same year, the Chemistry Department offered courses in radiochemistry, and the Institute of Engineering taught nuclear engineering classes. There is also a report that the university might have hot cells.4

Suh Sang Guk (서상국), the Dean of Department of Physics, heads North Korea’s nuclear research and development. Even though his official position is dean, he also manages human resources for nuclear research and leads research and development activities in North Korea as a secret member of the National Defense Committee. 5

It is estimated that 1,000 students graduate from the Atomic Energy Department annually. About 100 of those specialize in nuclear physics, and these graduates have reportedly been assigned to the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center or nuclear facilities in Pakchon-kun (박천군). 6

Until 2004, Pak Kwan O (박관오), an authority on nuclear physics and current Mayor of Pyongyang, had been serving as the president for 17 years. 7 Since 2021, the current university president is Kim Sung Chan, who also doubles as the Minister of Education, by replacing the former university president, Ri Kuk-chol, during North Korea’s Third Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee.8


*Note: There are also education bureaus under the people’s committees in every city and/or province (시∙도 인민위원회교육국) that contribute to the formation of education policy, and the local education bureau could provide some input for the school.


Nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor: A vessel in which nuclear fission may be sustained and controlled in a chain nuclear reaction. The varieties are many, but all incorporate certain features, including: fissionable or fissile fuel; a moderating material (unless the reactor is operated on fast neutrons); a reflector to conserve escaping neutrons; provisions of removal of heat; measuring and controlling instruments; and protective devices.
Subcritical assembly
Subcritical assembly: A reactor consisting of a mass of fissionable material and moderator whose effective multiplication factor is less than one, and which therefore cannot sustain a chain reaction. Subcritical assemblies are used primarily for educational purposes. Critical and subcritical assemblies, for example, are typically used for either basic physics experimentation or to model the properties of proposed reactor cores. They often contain very large amounts of HEU, and in some cases they are used to mock-up the cores of large power reactors.


  1. Park Yong Chae, “관심쏠린 원전기술 / 北발전설비 상당부분 국산화 Nuclear Technology Is Getting Attention / North Produces Most of Electricity System by Themselves,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, 21 June 1994, p. 5.
  2. Baek Young Cheol, “북한, 3년내 핵무기 갖는다 / 귀순한 북한 고영환씨 일문일답 North Will Have Nuclear Weapon in 3 Years / Interview of Defector Ko Yong Hwan,” Segye Ilbo, 14 September 1991, p. 2.
  3. Kim Pyoung Gu, et al., “북핵기술총설 Daejeon: Technology Center for Nuclear Control,” Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, November 1999, www.tcnc.kaeri.re.kr.
  4. UNDP Notes, International Nuclear Information System (INIS) Database, 1981, p. 18.
  5. Jang Yong-hun, “'北핵실험' 현역전문인력 3천명 추산 'North Nuclear Experiments’ Current Experts are Estimated at Approximately 3000,” Yonhap News, 25 May 2009, www.yonhapnews.co.kr.
  6. Ahn Yong-hyeon, “북(北) 핵(核)개발 전략, 베일싸인 '김정일 직속' 서기실이 주도 North’s Nuclear Development Strategy, Led by Kim Jong Il’s Direct Secretary Room,” Chosun Ilbo, 28 May 2009, http://news.chosun.com.
  7. “北 평양시장 경질…전 김일성대 총장 박관오씨 새로 임명 North, Replaced the Mayor of Pyongyang... New mayor is Pak Kwan O, Former President of Kim Il Sung University,” Donga Ilbo, 5 April 2007, www.donga.com.
  8. Yoon Geun Young, “정운찬 전 서울대 총장, 김일성대 총장 만나고파 Former President of Seoul National University, Jeong Un-chan Wants to Meet the President of Kim Il Sung University,” Newsis, 8 March 2009, http://news.naver.com.


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