Plutonium, Tritium, and Highly Enriched Uranium Production at the Yongbyon Nuclear Site North Korea’s nuclear arsenal may be growing significantly

by By David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini

June 14, 2016

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According to Reuters, a US government source stated that North Korea has separated plutonium at the Radiochemical Laboratory at the Yongbyon nuclear site. The Institute has independently confirmed activities inside the main building at the Radiochemical Laboratory. DigitalGlobe satellite imagery dated June 8, 2016 shows no signs of full-power operation at the 5 megawattelectric (MWe) reactor, although intermittent operation may continue. In 2015, the Institute conducted a comprehensive analysis of the production of separated plutonium, weapon-grade uranium, and nuclear weapons as of the end of 2014; one of the key central estimates was that North Korea had 10-16 nuclear weapons as of the end of 2014. Since the end of 2014, or during the last 18 months, North Korea has added an estimated 4-6 nuclear weapons to this value, based on additional production of separated plutonium and weapon-grade uranium at Yongbyon, where any contribution of a second centrifuge plant is ignored. Thus, as of June 2016, North Korea has about 13-21 nuclear weapons, where one weapon was subtracted to reflect the underground test in early 2016. The upper bound, or 21 weapons, is greater in fact because it does not include the effect of any weapon-grade uranium produced in a possible second centrifuge plant. Nonetheless, this estimate, despite not being comprehensive, shows that North Korea appears to be significantly increasing its nuclear weapons capabilities.

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