Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center: Experimental Light Water Reactor

The Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) is a nuclear reactor fueled by low-enriched uranium (LEU) with an estimated capacity of 25-30 MWe under final stages of construction at North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.

Construction of the ELWR commenced in July 2010, and a November 2010 trip report to Yongbyon by Siegfried Hecker provided some important technical details. Pyongyang has asserted the project would supply much-needed electricity to the country, but concerns remain that the LEU produced at Yongbyon would not just provide fuel for the reactor, but also plutonium for its nuclear weapons program.

While the reactor has appeared externally complete since 2016, the facility does not appear operational yet. Previous 38 North analyses have documented some of the challenges encountered so far, such as maintaining consistent reservoir levels to provide the necessary cooling water for reactor operations. Click here to read previous 38 North analyses on the ELWR.

Based on commercial satellite imagery of Yongbyon, the following 3D renders by Kemp Productions provide two views of the ELWR and its immediate surroundings, with estimated measurements rounded to the nearest 0.5 meters.

To view the renders, click on the thumbnails for full-screen viewing. Click anywhere on the image for additional zoom in/out.

ELWR renders © 2021 38 North/Duane Kemp/Kemp Productions. All rights reserved.

Special thanks to Olli Heinonen and Frank Pabian for their consultation and support.