Uranium production likely ongoing: Report

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Uranium production likely ongoing: Report

A leading U.S. analytic group on North Korea says Pyongyang may be continuing to produce enriched uranium used to build nuclear weapons, based on recent activity observed at a uranium mine and concentration plant.

In a report published Tuesday, the Washington-based North Korea analysis website 38 North said satellite imagery showed operations at the Pyongsan Mine and Concentration Plant in North Hwanghae Province have continued over the past year based on waste tailings observed near the facility. Tailings are the materials left over after the process of separating the valuable material from the worthless parts of ore. The report confirmed the findings of an independent U.S. researcher, Jacob Bogle, who told Radio Free Asia on Aug. 21 that the Pyongsan plant may be emitting radioactive waste from the uranium enrichment process into the nearby Ryesong River, which empties into the Yellow Sea.

Press reports that picked up on the story raised alarm that a nuclear leak may be underway that could - according to one dramatic conjecture from the British tabloid The Sun - “ultimately affect an estimated 600 million people and end up being the world’s worst man-made disaster.”

The 38 North report acknowledged the significant health hazards stemming from toxic nuclear waste and that the Pyongsan plant showed signs of spillage, but also stressed that the media reports on Bogle’s observation have been “overly sensationalistic.”

“Perhaps even more important than the environmental impact, the operation of the facility is another indication that Pyongyang is continuing and prioritizing its program to produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons,” the report read.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry on Tuesday published its own assessment of the possibility of radioactive nuclear leaks entering the Yellow Sea from North Korea, concluding that the Radio Free Asia report lacked concrete evidence. According to the ministry, the nuclear plant at Pyongsan does not have facilities capable of enriching uranium or a reactor, which are likely to produce high levels of radioactive waste, and are only home to facilities for mining uranium and refining the ore into yellowcake - the substance produced as an intermediate step before enrichment.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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