Yongbyon may have second enrichment facility

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Yongbyon may have second enrichment facility

North Korea may be building a second centrifuge facility that could be used to enrich uranium in its Yongbyon nuclear complex according to a report by London-based defense consulting firm IHS Jane on Tuesday.

Such activity comes ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North’s Workers’ Party on Oct. 10. Observers have speculated that Pyongyang may launch a long-range missile to mark the anniversary.

The IHS Jane report analyzed satellite images taken between January and February, observing heat radiated from buildings to indicate expanded activities inside buildings.

“Starting up a second centrifuge hall at Yongbyon could be driven by the North Korean leadership’s stated desire to use light water reactors to produce electrical power,” the report said, “although it could also be used to create highly-enriched uranium to produce nuclear weapons.”

Centrifuges are used to enrich uranium which can be used for nuclear power plants as well as atomic bombs.

The second hall could have started testing in January, the report said, and may have become operational by early February.

According to the report, in January, snow had melted around the main facility believed to be used for uranium enrichment. The most significant change showed that on Feb. 6, snow had begun to melt on the roof of a second building and adjacent structures.

The buildings that produce hydrofluoric acid and a small building thought to produce uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas used in the uranium enrichment process showed a small amount of melting, it said, “strongly suggesting that the processes inside these buildings were causing the melting and not general building heating.”

The Yongbyon center also has a five-megawatt plutonium electrical power reactor.

IHS Jane told NBC News Tuesday that the new centrifuge facility could potentially double North Korea’s ability to produce weapons-grade uranium.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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