North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center: 5 MWe Reactor Unlikely Operating

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Frank V. Pabian, Jack Liu and Peter Makowsky.

Recent commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center indicates that although a minor flow of water could be detected from the pre-existing cooling water outfall pipe of the 5 MWe reactor, such a low flow is more likely indicative of residual waste heat removal from past reactor operations than any new reactor operations.

Dredging continues near the reactor’s secondary cooling system, and by November, that dredged material had blocked nearly all of the river channel serving the pump house. Minimal movements of vehicles and equipment have taken place around both the 5 MWe reactor and the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR). Notably, between September 27 and November 2, new excavation had started along the road east of the 5 MWe reactor, the purpose of which is unclear.

Figure 1. Dredging continues adjacent to the new pump house, with new excavation activity near the 5 MWe reactor.

Image before: Pleiades © CNES 2018, Distribution Airbus DS. Image after: © 2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All rights reserved. For media licensing options, please contact [email protected]

There are no signs that the ELWR is operating. The river reservoir level had dropped considerably by November 2, leaving the channel serving the pump house of the ELWR filled with silt and sand, with no evidence of water flow to or from the ELWR’s pump house.

At the ELWR’s support yard, construction and movement of equipment continues. Moreover, excavation in a nearby lot first observed in October appears to have been filled with some type of small rectangular tank by November.

Figure 2. Minor activity continues around the ELWR.

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