The secret factory in Kangson, near Pyongyang, began taking shape in the early 2000s and is thought to have enriched weapons-grade uranium for 17 years.
The facility has been on United States (US) intelligence radar since 2007, but now the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that the site is nuclear in nature and is currently active. (Read: The Outdoor Space Program Questioned by DK PBB, Korut Kesal)
“We are trying to perfect the analysis on Kangson,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi.
“At first we were a little more cautious, but with further analysis we can see that this is a relevant place where activity is taking place,” he said.
In its 2018 exposure, the US-based magazine, The Diplomat, on Friday (20/11/2020), described how Kangson “ticked the box” for a secret nuclear site.
At its heart is a hall measuring 50 meters long by 110 meters wide, which is believed to be a reservoir for centrifugal water that produces highly enriched uranium.
Satellite photos show snow never collects on its roof, even when a nearby roof is covered. That suggests there is heat throughout the year in the facility.
In addition, it is only one kilometer from the main toll road — a rescue route for a facility that generates a lot of waste and requires regular re-supply — and less than four kilometers from the Chamjin Missile Plant.
It was revealed that it was also the only major facility in the region that Kim Jong-un and his predecessor Kim Jong-il had never visited in North Korean propaganda.
It was even surrounded by a one kilometer long perimeter wall — indicating a high security area.
A number of support buildings at the site are considered home to scientists, engineers and other staff.
US intelligence sources told The Diplomat that Kangson’s capacity could be double that of the Yongbyon site, another nuclear facility whose existence the Kim Jong-un regime recognizes.
A different US government source estimated in 2017 that – between the two sites – North Korea had enough fissile material for 12 new nuclear weapons a year.
Since then, a third suspected site has been detected by US military intelligence.
Grossi said identifying Kangson as an important nuclear site if North Korea decided to allow IAEA inspectors to return to the country.
“For me this is important because, when we return to the DPRK – and I hope this really happens – we will have more facilities and more space in front of us to visit,” he said, using an abbreviation of the official name of North Korea; The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
“So, it’s good that we start to feel what could happen in different parts of the country.”
Grossi also emphasized that the latest satellite imagery is helping the IAEA track the site. “That’s all,” he said.
“This is more information but maybe there are more supervisors, more equipment and it takes time,” he explained.
“And we are at a time of very large budget constraints that we are basically counting on voluntary contributions from several countries that are willing to help us improve our operations,” he added.
“Because if anything happens then we will be asked to be there immediately and if we are not ready it will be very bad.”