North Korea tries to hide uranium plant expansion, watch group says

North Korea appears to have taken steps to conceal upgrades to a uranium enrichment plant from spy satellites, as it reopens communications with pro-engagement South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Satellite imagery shows previously reported construction in an area of ​​the Yongbyon uranium enrichment plant was covered to obscure details of the building’s layout, the US website 38 North said in a published article. on its website. He added that while there could be several reasons for the expansion, one could be the increased production of fissile material.

“One option, assuming North Korea produces low enriched uranium in two enrichment halls, is that the extension can also be used to enrich low enriched uranium in military grade uranium (highly enriched uranium ) as it becomes available from these two waterfalls. rooms, ”he said.

The renovations could indicate that North Korea plans to increase production by as much as 25 percent, weapons expert Jeffrey Lewis wrote on his Arms Control Wonk website in mid-September. 38 North had said earlier that satellite imagery indicated the cooling units had been removed from the facility between August 25 and September 1, and the reason for the move was “unclear.”

The modernization of the Yongbyon uranium enrichment facility comes after the International Atomic Energy Agency said North Korea also resumed plutonium production activities at its main nuclear complex for the first time. times for about three years.

These measures show that leader Kim Jong Un is ramping up production of materials for nuclear bombs, which he has repeatedly produced during disarmament talks with former US President Donald Trump. Kim lobbied US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in by testing three new weapon systems designed to deliver nuclear weapons to all of South Korea and most of Japan in September, two countries that host the bulk of the American troops. In the region.

Kim offered Moon an olive branch this week by reestablishing the inter-Korean hotlines that Pyongyang had left silent for about two months and dangled the prospect of another face-to-face meeting before the South Korean leader is stepping down next year.

The change in tone probably has a lot to do with the political calendar in Seoul. South Korea elects a new president in March and time is running out for Moon to deliver on one of its key commitments to bring the two Koreas closer to peace. North Korea likely sees the election as a chance to get Moon’s concessions and get him to pressure the United States to do the same.

Andrew Kim, the former head of a CIA center tasked with countering threats from North Korea, said he expects a video summit to take place before Moon leaves office, Stars and Stripes reported Wednesday.

North Korea produces enough fissile material for five to six nuclear bombs a year, according to estimates from weapons experts, and has sufficient stockpiles for around 30 to 60 weapons.

The Yongbyon Nuclear Complex, which has been the crown jewel of North Korea’s atomic program, is an aging facility about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Pyongyang that was once the sole source of its fissile material. It produced roughly enough plutonium each year for an atomic bomb.

Since then, North Korea has used uranium enrichment as the main source of fissile material for weapons.

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