North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center: Construction Progressing Rapidly Near Reactors; No Signs of Reprocessing

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Jack Liu.

Commercial satellite imagery of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center from April 4 shows significant progress in the modifications underway associated with the 5 MWe reactor’s secondary cooling system. (Figure 1) Over the past five days, a rectangular, concrete-walled, vault-like foundation has been erected.[1] (Figures 2 and 3) The purpose of this new structure remains unclear, but it could be for a new pump house comparable to the one serving the ELWR. Given recent efforts to dam the river below this point to create a reservoir, this could be part of a larger effort to provide a steady flow of water into that reactor allowing it to run more continuously and safely in the future. Alternatively, since its location is near where the reactor cooling water used to be expelled during previous reactor operations, it could be part of a new cooling water outflow system to enhance the overall efficiency and potentially the cooling capacity of the secondary cooling loop.

Figure 1. Overview of 5 MWe reactor area.

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Figure 2. Rectangular concrete-walled foundation erected in reactor cooling water outfall area.

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Figure 3. Close-up of concrete-walled foundation.

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At the Radiochemical Laboratory, there are no visible indicators that a new reprocessing campaign has started such as the nearby presence of specialized rail cars. Moreover, there is no smoke coming from the coal-fired Thermal Plant that provides steam to the Laboratory and no vapor emanating from the Laboratory’s cooling tower. Imagery shows only some truck movement in the motor pool since March 30, and a probable mobile crane near the receiving building near where a small object had previously been observed. (Figure 4)

Figure 4. No visible indicators of a new reprocessing campaign at the Radiochemical Laboratory.

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Around the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR), construction of the adjacent engineering support laboratory/office building is progressing rapidly, but there are no observable signs that initial reactor operations are imminent. (Figure 5)

Figure 5. Construction of engineering support laboratory/office building progressing rapidly.

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  1. [1]

    The structure’s outer dimensions are ~16 x 10 meters, interior dimensions ~14 x 8 meters, with the walls ~1 meter thick.


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