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Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center

  • Location
    Pungang-jigu (분강지구), Yongbyon-gun (영변군), Pyonganbuk-do (평안북도), North Korea*
  • Type
  • Facility Status

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The Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center was established following the conclusion of two atomic energy agreements signed by North Korea and the USSR in late 1950s. Construction of the center began in 1961 and was completed in 1964. Soviet specialists assisted in the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center’s construction and initial operation, and the center’s total start-up costs were reportedly about $500 million (in 1962 U.S. dollars). The center received an IRT-2000 research reactor from the Soviet Union in 1965, and the center has played the major role in North Korea’s nuclear research and development ever since. 1 2 3

The center is one of the four major nuclear-related organizations under the General Department of Atomic Energy. The other three organizations are the Isotope Application Committee (동위원소응용위원회), the Atomic Energy Committee (원자력부문위원회), and the Pyongyang Atomic Energy Academy (평양원자력연구원).

The Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center has the following 10 research institutes under its jurisdiction: 4

The Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center is also the site of North Korea’s 5MWe Reactor and 50MWe Reactor, and a new experimental 25-30 MW(e) light water reactor, as well as pilot-scale and full-scale fuel fabrication facilities, the Radiochemistry Laboratory used for reprocessing, and three waste storage facilities known externally as Building 500, Declared Waste Storage Facility, and Undeclared Waste Storage Facility.

According to Professor Siegfried S. Hecker of Stanford University, Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center has a uranium enrichment facility with 2,000 centrifuges, which did not exist until April 2009. DPRK’s representatives claimed that they are producing LEU for civilian use in the 25-30 MW(e) light water reactor that is still under construction. Their ability to enrich is not verified. 5

*Note: The facilities are geographically located along the banks of the Kuryong River (구룡강) in Yongbyon-gun in Pyonganbuk-do, but the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center’s administrative address is Chungsong-dong (충성동), Chung-guyok (중구역) in Pyongyang. According to defector Kim Dae Ho (김대호), this is a false address to conceal the actual location and activities. 6

**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.


Reprocessing: The chemical treatment of spent nuclear fuel to separate the remaining usable plutonium and uranium for re-fabrication into fuel, or alternatively, to extract the plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.
Low enriched uranium (LEU)
Low enriched uranium (LEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of the isotope U-235 that is higher than that found in natural uranium but lower than 20% LEU (usually 3 to 5%). LEU is used as fuel for many nuclear reactor designs.


  1. Im Jong-geon, “북핵의 비경제성 [Inefficiency of North Korea’s Nuclear Activities],” Wonwoo, March 2003, www.kaeri.re.kr.
  2. Kang Cheol-hwan, “핵개발 메카 영변 분강지구 사람들 People in Bunganjigu, Yongbyon, the Mecca of Nuclear Development,” Chosun Ilbo, 27 November 2001.
  3. Gregory Karouv, “A Technical History of Soviet-North Korean Nuclear Relations,” in James Clay Moltz and Alexandre Y. Mansourov, eds., The North Korean Nuclear Program: Security, Strategy, and New Perspectives from Russia (New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 17.
  4. 북한개요 2009 North Korea Introduction 2009, Korea Institute for National Unification (South Korea), September 2009, p. 322.
  5. Siegfried S. Hecker, “A Return Trip to North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Complex,” Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, 20 November 2010, p. 1.
  6. Ham Bo-hyeon, “탈북 핵 기술자 “北 핵개발에 `올인`˝ Defected Nuclear Expert, “The North is ‘All-In’ for Nuclear Development,”” Yonhap News Agency, 11 July 2006, www.yonhapnews.co.kr.


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