The Nukes of North Korea

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Note: 3rd in a series on North Korea
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Satellite shows location of the Nyongbyon Nuclear Facilities near Nyongbyon, North Korea

As said in the previous article, it takes three ingredients to mix a nuclear holocaust cocktail:

  • A delivery system
  • A functioning nuclear bomb
  • The ability to build nuclear weapons

As shown in the previous articles, North Korea is perfecting the first two ingredients as we speak. Those two are making global headlines right now.

In this final article I’ll investigate the 3rd ingredient… building nuclear bombs.

Lets take a gander at North Korea’s nuclear weapons manufacturing capabilities from orbit to deduce what we might expect from them in the future.

The Nyongbyon Nuclear Facility

Unlike the United States, North Korea doesn’t separate its civilian and military programs. What’s done for one works equally well for the other. North Koprea uses its civilian programs to mask their military purposes.

That is why it inconsistently claims an attempted civilian satellite launch in the next few days that cheaply disguises testing a rocket capable of delivering a nuclear weapon thousands of miles away.

Nyongbyon (also called Yongbyon) is a military nuclear weapons manufacturing complex masquerading as a civilian nuclear power facility.

To see it for yourself just type “Nyongbyon, North Korea” into Google Earth’s search box. That takes you to the town of Nyongbyon. That’s not the facility. The nuclear weapons plants are 3.5 miles (5.3 kilometers) west of there and scattered southward along about 2 miles of the river down to a great big horseshoe bend.

What is found there:

  • A 5MW nuclear reactor
  • A 50MW nuclear reactor
  • A radiochemical reprocessing plant
  • A fuel fabrication plant
  • A gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant
  • A nuclear research facility

Its everything you need to build nuclear bombs. This is where North Korea made the two nuclear bombs they tested in 2006 and 2009.

5MW Reactor

5MW Reactor. Also shown is where a new light water reactor is under construction

This has been North Korea’s only functioning nuclear reactor to date.

This “experimental” reactor is where North Korea produced the plutonium used for making their two crude nuclear bombs. There is probably enough remaining plutonium for several more weapons.

To hide its military purpose, the 5MW reactor was under-advertised. It was closer to a 25-30MW thermal reactor. It went online in 1985. It ran off and on through 2003. Fuel rods were periodically removed to extract plutonium suitable for weapons grade enrichment.

It is decommissioned now. That was part of an international agreement to provide food aid.

Ironically, as part of the treaty agreement the United States paid $2.5 million to demolish and clean away its steam cooling tower in 2008.

Little did the United States government know it was just paying to clear the land for North Korea to build a bigger light water reactor on that exact spot.

I bet the North Koreans laughed themselves silly over that one.

50MW  and 200MW Graphite Reactors

50MW Nuclear Reactor at the Nyongbyon Nuclear Complex

200MW Nuclear Reactor at Taechon, North Korea about 15 miles northwest of the Nyongbyon Complex

The 50MW reactor at Nyongbyon and the 200MW reactor located 15 miles to the northwest were never brought online.  They were abandoned in the late 1990s because they couldn’t make or obtain enough graphite core to complete their construction.

North Korea then opted to switch to building more sophisticated light water reactors.

(NOTE: You can see the partially built 200MW reactor for yourself by Google Earthing “Taechon, North Korea”. It is about 3.5 miles east of town across the river.)

Nyongbyon Radiochemical Reprocessing Plant

Radiological Reprocessing Plant Extracts Plutonium for Nuclear Weapons

This facility was used to extract plutonium needed for nuclear bombs from the spent nuclear fuel rods from the 5MW reactor.

It will work just as well for the fuel cells from the new light water reactor under construction.

Nyongbyon Fuel Fabrication Plant

Fuel Fabrication Facility used to create fuel rods for nuclear reactors

This plant is used to make the fuel rods that are used in nuclear reactors. It is probably where the fuel rods for the new light water reactor are being fabricated right now.

Nyongbyon Gas Centrifuge Uranium Enrichment Facility

Former plutonium reprocessing building before being refitted for uranium gas centrifuges

Gas Centrifuge Building after retrofitting as of November 2010

Within the fuel fabrication facility is the gas centrifuge enrichment plant. This same building former housed the  plutonium enrichment plant needed for processing the fuel rods taken from the old, now-defunct 5MW graphite reactor.

Since 2008 it has been refitted with centrifuges to extract uranium from the new light water reactor under construction.

Like its plutonium predecessors, the gas centrifuges are used to produce highly enriched weaponized nuclear material for building nuclear bombs. The centrifuges extract and concentrate fissionable uranium so it can later be made to go KA-BOOM!

North Korea agreed to dismantle the former plutonium enrichment equipment by international treaty knowing full well they had to remove that equipment to put in the uranium enrichment centrifuges!

I bet they laughed it up over than one, too!

Main Nyongbyon Nuclear Research Facility

Main Nuclear Research Building at the Nyongbyon Nuclear Complex

New Light Water Nuclear Reactor

New light water nuclear reactor under construction as of 2/3/2012

You won’t be able to see this construction on Google Earth yet. The newest Google Earth satellite image of the site isn’t new enough. It was taken on 2/18/2007.

The above February 2012 satellite image is interpreted by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

The 25-30MW reactor (100MW thermal) is under rapid construction right next to the old 5MW reactor. This  construction site is labeled on the 5MW reactor image shown earlier. It is being built right where you can see the old classic nuke’s steam cooling tower.

That is the tower the United States paid $2.5 million to demolish!

Western experts did not believe North Korea capable of building a light water nuclear reactor. They were shocked to see the incredible progress being made on the light water reactor since 2010.

Analysis and Conclusions

North Korea may not be able to feed it’s own people, but it is self-sufficient when it comes to building nuclear weapons.

Though it is less suitable and takes longer to making bombs from spent fuel rods from a light-water reactor, it can still be done. Everything need is already in place at Nyongbyon! Given they can’t operate their graphite reactors anymore, light water is the only way to go.

A Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists fully outlines other scary changes taking place at Nyongbyon.

North Korea is about to test a rocket capable of delivering a nuclear bomb thousands of miles away. Its been sitting on the launch pad since April 8th. Its also secretly excavating a remote mine shaft preparing to detonate its 3rd plutonium bomb.

In the last several years North Korea has greatly accelerated its nuclear weapons activity and those efforts are about to bear fruit.

North Korea is the most dangerous rogue nation on Earth. Its about to become a menacing nuclear-armed thug.

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About azleader

Learning to see life more clearly... one image at a time!

Posted on Apr 11, 2012, in culture, Life, Military, news, North Korea, Nyongbyon, Opinion, Politics, Thoughts, yongbyon. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. lizfruitberry

    Ok, this is a forward comment, feel free to delete. Why can’t we just blow them right off the freaking map? Bush, Obama lingered around the subject, but have done little to stop them. Why? I say we use military force asap. Ok, so most of our troops are in Iraq, Pakistan, Afganistan, and elsewhere. Why don’t we move troops and use force while there is still time? Makes no sense. We spend billions and billions rebuilding Iraq, but allow this to go on….No logical sense. Great Post! Well written, you should be a journalist!

  2. Answer: We easily could
    However, its far more complicated than that. This situation is decades in the making with political agreements through the “Agreed Framework” and “Six Party Talks”. There is an excellent review of North Korea’s nuclear program and its history called “North Korea’s Choice: Bombs over Electricity” in .pdf form I highly recommend reading:
    http://iis-db.stanford.edu/pubs/22944/Hecker-Lee-Braun_North_Koreas_Choice.pdf

  3. You were correct. Today they launched the rocket, missile, icbm, or whatever it is. It supposedly broke apart or something like that. This is dangerous stuff. Are these N. Koreans targetting Japan or the West Coast of the USA, in order to play black mail one day. This makes me very nervous. We hear a lot about Iran, but this is cooking too. I wonder if Japan would want to militarize and develop plans to take this complex of campuses out. Do you know what Japan is doing?

    • Hopefully, I answer your questions in today’s article. 😉

      Btw… North Korea supplied Iran with the assistance they needed to become a nuclear threat.

      Japan is not militaristic. It is still very much dependent of the United States to provide it protection in case of any regional military threats.

  1. Pingback: Where To Test A Nuclear Bomb « Inform The Pundits!

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