SEOUL, South Korea — Experts claim recent satellite photos show North Korea developing a uranium enrichment unit at its major Yongbyon nuclear complex, indicating the country’s intention to increase bomb material production.
According to research by Jeffrey Lewis and two other analysts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, “the extension of the enrichment facility undoubtedly suggests that North Korea aims to raise its production of weapons-grade uranium at the Yongbyon complex by as much as 25%.”
According to the report, a satellite image obtained on Sept. 1 showed North Korea clearing trees and preparing the site for building, as well as a construction excavator. A second photograph obtained on Sept. 14 showed a wall constructed to surround the space, foundation work, and panels removed from the side of the enrichment building to enable access to the newly enclosed area, according to the report.
According to the report, the new area is around 1,000 square meters (10,760 square feet), which is enough room to house 1,000 more centrifuges, increasing the plant’s ability to manufacture highly enriched uranium by 25%.
North Korea has facilities at Yongbyon to generate both highly enriched uranium and plutonium, which may be used to make nuclear bombs. Earlier satellite images of Yongbyon revealed evidence that North Korea was restarting the operation of additional facilities to generate weapons-grade plutonium last month.
The Yongbyon complex is referred to as the “heart” of North Korea’s nuclear program. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to destroy the whole facility in exchange for significant sanctions relief at a meeting with then-President Donald Trump in early 2019. The Americans, on the other hand, rejected Kim’s proposal because they saw it as a limited step toward disarmament.
Some analysts in the United States and South Korea believe North Korea is secretly operating at least one more uranium enrichment plant. In 2018, a senior South Korean official warned the South Korean parliament that North Korea has already produced up to 60 nuclear bombs.
The number of nuclear weapons North Korea can add each year is estimated to range from six to 18 bombs.
In tests viewed as a move to diversify its missile weapons and increase its strike capacity on South Korea and Japan, where 80,000 American soldiers are stationed, North Korea shot both ballistic and cruise missiles toward the sea this week. Both types of missiles, according to experts, might be equipped with nuclear warheads.
Kim has promised to expand his nuclear arsenal and obtain more advanced weapons unless the United States ends its animosity against his nation, a clear allusion to US-led sanctions and regular military drills with South Korea. Kim, on the other hand, has maintained his self-imposed ban on launching long-range missiles directly targeting the United States mainland, implying that he wishes to leave the possibility of future negotiations with Washington alive.