North Korea nuclear complex may have been damaged by floods

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North Korea nuclear complex may have been damaged by floods

Satellite images published in a report by the North Korea analysis website 38 North, show flooding along the Kuryong River bisecting the Yongbyon nuclear complex. The image on the left shows the complex on July 22, before the rain, while the image on the right shows elevated water levels on the river on Aug. 6, following heavy downpours. [YONHAP]

Satellite images published in a report by the North Korea analysis website 38 North, show flooding along the Kuryong River bisecting the Yongbyon nuclear complex. The image on the left shows the complex on July 22, before the rain, while the image on the right shows elevated water levels on the river on Aug. 6, following heavy downpours. [YONHAP]

 
North Korea’s nuclear complex at Yongbyon may have been significantly damaged by flooding at the Kuryong River, said a U.S. research institute on Wednesday.  
 
According to a report by 38 North, a website devoted to the analysis of North Korea run by the Washington-based Stimson Center, satellite imagery of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center in North Pyongan Province from Aug. 6 revealed what was “perhaps the worst [flooding] in the past several years.”  
 
The Yongbyon complex is one of North Korea’s largest and best-known nuclear facilities, home to reactors, a fuel reprocessing facility and a uranium enrichment center.  
 
With an area of approximately 8.9 million square meters (96 million square feet), the complex is bisected by the Kuryong River, from which water is drawn to run cooling operations at the 5-megawatt electric reactor.  
 
“Although the security wall around the reactor complex was not breached, the water had reached the two pump houses that service the reactors and completely submerged their respective bases,” the report said. “The overfall dam that was built to ensure a constant reservoir of water and is available for cooling the reactors was also fully underwater.”  
 
Possible damage to the pumps and piping systems, which are the “biggest vulnerability to the reactors," would require a shutdown, the report said, though there were no indications the 5 MWe reactor has been operating.  
 
Work on embankments along the river to guard against annual flooding was ongoing, but this year’s rains proved such efforts have been insufficient, according to 38 North. Flooding was also observed farther downstream near the complex’s uranium enrichment plant, the report added.  
 
The 5 MWe reactor at Yongbyon is believed to be capable of producing five to seven kilograms (11 to 15 pounds) of weapons-grade plutonium each year, a critical component of the regime’s nuclear arsenal.  
 
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at his second summit with the United States notably offered to dismantle the entire complex at Yongbyon in exchange for sanctions relief, but the proposal was turned down by U.S. President Donald Trump. Negotiations over the North’s denuclearization have not recovered since.  
 
The North was pummeled by heavy rains that fell across the peninsula this month, with some areas of the country receiving upwards of 700 millimeters (28 inches) of rain over six days, according to state media.  
 
Kusong City in North Pyongan Province, located around 60 kilometers (37.3 miles) from Yongbyon, received more than 600 millimeters of rain from Aug. 1 to 6, based on a report from the state-run Korean Central Television (KCTV).  
 
South Korea’s Ministry of Unification on Monday said the damage caused by flooding in the North appeared to be the worst since 2007, when the country was hit by an estimated 500 to 700 millimeters of rain over a span of one week.  
 
But Yongbyon remains susceptible to damage amid concerns that rains could continue through Friday.
 
“From the 13th to 14th, over 100 millimeters of rain accompanied by thunderstorms will fall across various areas in northern regions above central Korea,” said a KCTV weekly weather report Monday.
 
“Parts of North and South Pyongan Province, southern Chagang Province, South Hamgyong Province and Kangwon Province are due to receive significant rainfall ranging from 150 to 200 millimeters.”
 
State media further reported urban centers across North Pyongan Province are heavily preparing for additional rains.
 
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK   [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
 

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