ISIS Reports

Additional Construction Activity at Yongbyon Nuclear Site

by Paul Brannan

June 10, 2011

At the Yongbyon nuclear center, most attention has recently focused on the construction of a gas centrifuge plant and what North Korea says will be a light water reactor.  However, commercial satellite imagery shows additional construction or renovation activities that occurred in the last two years.  In particular, this report focuses on two sites which were at some point associated with reactor fuel fabrication.  These construction and renovation activities took place after the April 2009 departure of IAEA monitors and U.S. experts charged with disabling three plutonium production facilities at the Yongbyon site.  According to North Korea, after their departure, it began constructing the gas centrifuge plant at the Fuel Fabrication Facility.  These other construction activities could be related to reactor fuel fabrication, uranium enrichment, or uranium conversion, including uranium tetrafluoride or uranium hexafluoride production.  Whatever the exact purpose, these activities show that more is going on at Yongbyon than commonly believed.  North Korea should provide information about these new buildings.

Original Pilot Fuel Fabrication Building

Figure 1 shows the location of the original pilot fuel fabrication building at Yongbyon, just north of the 5 megawatt-electric reactor.  This facility was reportedly used in the early to mid-1980s but was soon shut down and replaced by the Fuel Fabrication Facility in the southern part of the Yongbyon complex.  Figure 2 is a comparison of satellite images showing that a new roof was constructed at some point between August 10, 2009 and June 24, 2010. The new roof could have been part of a renovation of the entire building.

Was the building renovated into a fuel fabrication building again?  Is it related to uranium conversion, such as the production of uranium oxide, uranium tetrafluoride, or uranium hexafluoride? Is the building related to uranium enrichment? Or does it have a non-nuclear purpose?

New Construction or Renovation Activities at Fuel Fabrication Facility After April 2009

Several buildings located at the Fuel Fabrication Facility were constructed or renovated soon after the April 2009 departure of IAEA monitors (see figure 3).  North Korea began renovating the building that now contains the gas centrifuge plant at some point after this April 2009 departure.

Building Adjacent to Gas Centrifuge Plant. As can be seen in a September 29, 2010 DigitalGlobe image, a new roof was constructed on a building adjacent to the new gas centrifuge building (see figure 4).1  This new roof could indicate that this building was renovated as well.

Compound in Southeast Corner of Fuel Fabrication Facility. A compound in the southeast corner of the Fuel Fabrication Facility also changed markedly after April 2009.  For many years prior to the departure of the monitors, this compound stood largely unchanged, aside from the removal of roofs from buildings within this compound (see figure 5).  In the August 10, 2009 satellite image, foundation work for two new buildings can be seen (see figure 5).  While North Korea deconstructs and reconstructs buildings at the Yongbyon site on a regular basis, the timing and location of these new buildings raises the possibility that these are related to North Korea‚Äôs uranium enrichment program, the conversion of uranium, or fuel fabrication.

New Building Constructed. A new building was also constructed adjacent to the new construction in the southeast corner compound (see figure 6).  There does not appear to be any excavation activity for this building as of the April 17, 2009 satellite image (see figure 6). Construction is underway in the June 24, 2010 image, and the building appears finished in the March 8, 2011 image.

New Roof on Building on Western Edge of Fuel Fabrication Facility. A building on the western edge of the Fuel Fabrication Facility also received a new roof some time between August 10, 2009 and June 24, 2010 (see figure 7).  A satellite image from February 24, 2010 shows the new roof being constructed (see figure 7).




Figure 1.  Overview of the Yongbyon nuclear site in North Korea.  The original pilot fuel fabrication building is approximately 400 meters north of the 5MW reactor building.




Figure 2.  Commercial satellite images showing this original pilot fuel fabrication building on August 10, 2009, February 24, 2010 and June 24, 2010.  A new roof can be seen in the June 24, 2010 image.  The entire building may have undergone a renovation during this time period.




Figure 3.  An overview of the Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Yongbyon nuclear site showing the location of various construction and renovation activities that occurred after April 2009.




Figure 4.  Comparison of satellite imagery showing new roof on building adjacent to the gas centrifuge plant.  The new roof could indicate that North Korea renovated the entire building.




Figure 5.  Comparison of satellite images of the southeast corner of the Fuel Fabrication Facility. Original structures were deconstructed beginning almost nine years ago.  The skeletons of the buildings remained in place for many years until construction of new buildings began after April of 2009.




Figure 6.  Comparison of satellite images over time showing the construction of a new building after April 2009.




Figure 7. Comparison of commercial satellite images showing the construction of a new roof on a building on the western edge of the Fuel Fabrication Facility.  The new roof could indicate that North Korea renovated the entire building.




1 Globalsecurity.org also noted the renovation of this building in a September 26, 2010 GeoEye image: http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/dprk/html/yongbyon-ffp-imagery-02-04.htm

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