Yongbyon Fuel Fabrication Plant

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Last Updated: June 7, 2012
Other Name: 영변핵연료생산가공장; Yongbyon Nuclear Fuel Rod Production Plant (영변핵연료생산공장); Nuclear Fuel Rod Production Facility (핵연료봉제조시설); August Enterprise; August Industrial Company (8월기업소); Yongbyon Nuclear Conversion Facility (영변핵변환시설)
Location: Bungang-jigu (분강지구), Yongbyon-gun (영변군), North Pyeongan Province (평안북도), North Korea
Subordinate To: 5th Machine Industry Bureau (5기계공업총국), Korean Workers Party (조선노동당)
Size: During 1992-1993, this plant reportedly manufactured fuel rods that contained 100 tons of uranium per year. Each rod contains 6.25kg of uranium; therefore, the plant was producing about 16,000 fuel rods per year. [1]
Facility Status: Converted into an uranium enrichment facility

Construction of this fabrication plant is believed to have begun during 1980-1981; and the plant was operational in early 1987. The Soviet Union’s refusal in 1979 to sell nuclear fuel to North Korea for the 5MWe reactor on the grounds that they would only supply for Soviet-made equipment was apparently the impetus for building this facility. [2] This plant was capable of producing Magnox fuel rods with both magnesium-aluminum cladding (used in the 5 MWe reactor), and magnesium-zirconium cladding.

A North Korean defector revealed in 1994 that this plant processed uranium concentrates received from Bakcheon and Pyeongsan uranium milling facilities. [3] In December 1992, North Korea was reportedly modifying or expanding the plant to produce fuel for the 50MWe and 200MWe reactors that were under construction at the time. [4] This facility produced the approximately 8,000 fuel rods that were discharged from the 5MWe reactor and put into storage in 1994 and which North Korea claimed to have taken out of storage and reprocessed in 2003. [5]

No new fuel rods have been fabricated since 1994. [6] The plant quickly fell into disrepair, as fluorine — used to process uranium oxide — is very corrosive. [7] However in 2009, construction started on this facility as well as the pilot-scale fuel fabrication facility. [8] When a U.S. nuclear scientist, Siegfried Hecker, visited the Yongbyon site in November 2010, he saw that the North Koreans had converted the plant into the Yongbyon Uranium Enrichment Facility containing 2,000 P-2 centrifuges in six cascades for uranium enrichment. [9]

[1] David Albright, "Overview of North Korea's Nuclear Fuel-Cycle Facilities in the Early 1990s," in David Albright and Kevin O'Neill, eds., Solving the North Korean Nuclear Puzzle (Washington, D.C.: Institute For Science And International Security, 2000), p. 144.
[2] Alexander Zhebin, "A Political History of Soviet-North Korean Nuclear Cooperation," 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); Bermudez, Jr., Joseph S., "Exposing North Korea's secret nuclear infrastructure - Part Two,” Jane's Intelligence Review, Vol. 11, Is. 8, 1 August 1999.
[3] Son Seong-Jin, "평양 우라늄공장 출신 탈출자 김태호씨 증언 [North Korean Defector Testifies about Pyungyang Uranium Enrichment Factory]," Taehan Maeil, 13 May 1994, p. 5, via: www.kinds.or.kr.
[4] Oh Kuen-Bae, et. al., "북한의 원자력 아용개발 현황 분석 및 전망 연구 [Study on the Status of Nuclear Development and Utilization in North Korea],” KAERI/RR1298/1993, Korea Atomic Energy Institute, December 1993, p.72.
[5] David Albright and Paul Brannan, "Disabling DPRK Nuclear Facilities,” United States Institute of Peace: Working Paper, 23 October 2007, www.usip.org.
[6] Siegfried S. Hecker, "Denuclearizing North Korea," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 64, No. 2, May/June 2008, pp. 44-49, 61-62.
[7] David Albright and Paul Brannan, "Disabling DPRK Nuclear Facilities,” United States Institute of Peace: Working Paper, 23 October 2007, www.usip.org.
[8] Paul Brannan, "Additional Construction Activity at Yongbyon Nuclear Site," ISIS Reports, 20 June 2011, http://isis-online.org.
[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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