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ISIS Analysis of IAEA Safeguards Report on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from September 2, 2011

by David Albright and Paul Brannan

September 2, 2011

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released on September 2, 2011 an updated report on the application of safeguards in North Korea.  The report serves in part as a summary of the history of instances of suspected undeclared nuclear activity by North Korea and a chronology of the IAEA’s attempts to resolve these issues.  The report also contains several new pieces of information regarding its assessment of North Korea’s gas centrifuge program and the origin of uranium hexafluoride cylinders in Libya associated with the A.Q. Khan network’s assistance to Libya on gas centrifuge technology and equipment.

The report notes that based on an IAEA interview with Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea in November 2010 and was shown the new gas centrifuge plant at the Yongbyon nuclear site, the cascade “layout” and centrifuge descriptions appeared consistent with those provided by A.Q. Khan to other countries.  Khan provided to his network a design for a centrifuge cascade consisting of 344 P2 centrifuges, similar to the number in a North Korean cascade at Yongbyon.  The IAEA also appears to endorse the assessment that the centrifuges at the Yongbyon plant are based on the P2 centrifuge, which Khan also provided to Libya and Iran.

Earlier, ISIS assessed that the 2,000 centrifuges at the Yongbyon plant could be part of a 3,000 centrifuge system to make approximately 50 kg of weapon grade uranium per year. North Korea could easily use its centrifuges to make weapon-grade uranium.  Thus, convincing North Korea to shut down its enrichment program should be a pre-step to the resumption of negotiations in the Six Party Talks.

The IAEA also concludes in the report that uranium hexafluoride found in a cylinder shipped to Libya by the Khan network in 2001 “very likely” originated in North Korea.  The IAEA assesses that this indicates that North Korea had an undeclared uranium conversion capability prior to 2001.  Although this has been discussed publicly before, the IAEA has not previously addressed the issue as directly as it has in this report.

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