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Taecheon 200MWe Nuclear Reactor

  • Location
    Taecheon-gun (태천군), Pyeonganbuk-do (평안북도), North Korea
  • Type
    Nuclear-Power Reactor
  • Facility Status
    unfinished, abandoned

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North Korea began construction of a 200MWe nuclear reactor in Taecheon-gun in 1989, and expected to complete construction by 1996. The reactor design was modeled after the French G-2 reactor, which France developed in the 1950s primarily for plutonium production. 1 The Taecheon 200MWe reactor was designed to use graphite as a moderator, and CO2 as a coolant. 2 This reactor design is an efficient source for weapons-grade plutonium. The reactor could have been capable of producing about 220kg of plutonium per year, 3 but the reactor’s construction was frozen under the terms of the Agreed Framework of October 1994. 4 The agreement also provided for the dismantlement of this facility after the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) completed two light water nuclear reactors at Sinpo, Hamgyeongnam-do. However, the 1994 Agreed Framework broke down in 2003 and the construction was never completed. The KEDO arrangement was eventually abandoned in 2006. 5

Despite periodic threats to restart the construction of the Taecheon reactor, such as Lee Geun (리근), then head of North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ announcement that North Korea would complete Taecheon’s construction in 2-3 years, no real progress was made. 6 The Six-Party Talks process which began in 2003 rekindled hopes that the reactor would be permanently disabled. The reactor was a subject of disablement discussions within this context in 2007, when China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States agreed to an “Action Plan.” Later that year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was able to implement monitoring and verification measures for the shutdown of several facilities at the Yongbyon complex as well as the 200MWe reactor at Taecheon. However, this agreement also broke down and inspectors and their surveillance equipment were forced to leave in April 2009. 7 According to the IAEA and independent scientists at Stanford University, the 200MWe reactor remains unfinished and no significant changes have been made to it since 2002. 8 In November 2010, Siegfried Hecker returned to North Korea where he was told by the senior technical official at Yongbyon that the 200MWe reactor had become “ruined concrete structures and iron scrap.” 9


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.
A fluid circulated through a nuclear reactor to remove or transfer heat. The most commonly used coolant in the United States is water. Other coolants include heavy water, air, carbon dioxide, helium, liquid sodium, and a sodium-potassium alloy.
Weapons-grade material
Weapons-grade material: Refers to the nuclear materials that are most suitable for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, e.g., uranium (U) enriched to 90 percent U-235 or plutonium (Pu) that is primarily composed of Pu-239 and contains less than 7% Pu-240. Crude nuclear weapons (i.e., improvised nuclear devices), could be fabricated from lower-grade materials.
Agreed Framework
Agreed Framework: The 1994 agreement between the United States and North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK) to "freeze" the DPRK’s nuclear program. The agreement outlined a 10-year program during which the United States, South Korea, and Japan would construct two new light-water-moderated nuclear reactors in the DPRK in exchange for the shutting down of all of the DPRK’s existing nuclear facilities. In addition, the DPRK agreed to remain a party to the NPT and to accept IAEA full-scope safeguards. The multilateral Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) would oversee implementation of the agreement.

See glossary entries for Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization; for additional information, see the Joint Declaration and KEDO.
Dismantlement: Taking apart a weapon, facility, or other item so that it is no longer functional.
Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO)
KEDO was a consortium established in early 1995 to implement the 1994 Agreed Framework between the DPRK and United States. Its primary responsibilities were to finance and supply the agreed to light-water reactor (LWR) project, to provide heavy oil to the DPRK to meet its interim heating and electricity-generation needs, and to provide for the implementation of other measures required under the terms of the Agreed Framework. Due to the DPRK's nuclear weapons program in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework, the KEDO project has been suspended since November 2003. See entry for Agreed Framework. For additional information, see KEDO.
Light-water reactor
Light-water reactor: A term used to describe reactors using ordinary water, where the hydrogen is hydrogen-1, as a coolant and moderator, including boiling water reactors (BWRs) and pressurized water reactors (PWRs), the most common types used in the United States.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
IAEA: Founded in 1957 and based in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is an autonomous international organization in the United Nations system. The Agency’s mandate is the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, technical assistance in this area, and verification that nuclear materials and technology stay in peaceful use. Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT to accept safeguards administered by the IAEA. The IAEA consists of three principal organs: the General Conference (of member states); the Board of Governors; and the Secretariat. For additional information, see the IAEA.


  1. Mun Seong-gyu, “'북핵타결' 北 핵시설 현황 ['Nuclear Breakthrough' Current Status of North Korea’s Nuclear Facilities],” Yonhap News Agency, 13 February 2007, www.yonhap news.co.kr.
  2. Lee U-seung, “北 핵시설 현황은 [Current Status of North Korea’s Nuclear Facilities?]” Segye Ilbo, 27 March 2011, www.segye.com.
  3. Plutonium production capacity is derived under the assumptions that 1MWth-day results in 1g of Pu, and that the reactor would operate at a capacity factor of 75 percent. Therefore, 800 MWth X 365 days X 75% = 219kg.
  4. Mun Seong-gyu, “'북핵타결' 北 핵시설 현황 ['Nuclear Breakthrough' Current Status of North Korea’s Nuclear Facilities]” Yonhap News Agency, 13 February 2007, www.yonhap news.co.kr.
  5. “KEDO: Promoting Peace and Stability on the Korean Peninsula and Beyond,” Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, www.kedo.org; Yu Hyeon-min, “한전 보관 '北경수로 기자재' 청산협의 [KEPCO’s LWR Equipment Settling Discussion],” Yonhap News Agency, 8 November 2009, www.yonhap news.co.kr.
  6. Ham Bo-hyeon, “’영변.태천 원자로 2-3년 내 완공’ '北리근 국장' [‘Yongbyon, Taecheon’s Reactor will be Completed in 2~3 Years’ 'North, Chief Lee'],” Yonhap News Agency, 13 July 2005, www.yonhapnews.co.kr.
  7. “Application of Safeguards in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” Board of Governors, General Conference, IAEA, GOV/2010/45-GC(54)/12, 31 August 2010, www.iaea.org.
  8. “Application of Safeguards in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” Board of Governors, General Conference, IAEA, GOV/2007/45-GC(51)/19, 17 August 2007, www.iaea.org; Siegfried S. Hecker, “Report on North Korean Nuclear Program,” Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, 15 November 2006, http://iis-db.stanford.edu.
  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, http://iis-db.stanford.edu.


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