Defense

Researchers Find Underground North Korean Nuclear Plant With Satellites

REUTERS/Jason Lee

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Thomas Phippen Associate Editor
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A U.S. policy group claims they have found the underground location of a former uranium research plant in North Korea through analysis of satellite imagery.

The Institute for Science and International Security reports that they may located a small-scale centrifuge research and development facility used during the early years of North Korea’s nuclear program.

The nuclear plant is hidden underneath a mountain near an airport in the northwest of the country, the institute claimed Thursday, though they note that they haven’t verified the facility. (RELATED: US Ramps Up South Korean Defense, North Korea Calls It ‘War’)

The institute pinpointed the location by combining intelligence from a North Korean defector, clues from newspaper reports, insight from government officials, and analysis of commercially available satellite imagery. “We have learned from knowledgeable government officials, and found with the assistance of Joseph Bermudez of AllSource Analysis, that the most likely site of this facility is the Panghyon Aircraft Plant,” the report says.

A Japanese newspaper reported in 2000 “that Chinese sources had indicated there was an enrichment plant located inside a mountain, listed in the article as Mount Chonma,” the institute’s report says. Additionally, when General Chun Sun Lee defected to China from North Korea in 2001, a Chinese newspaper reported a nuclear facility located “under Mt. Chun Ma,” but the location matched the reports from the other source.

With the assistance of AllSource Analysis, a private company that analyzes satellite imagery, the institute searched the area suggested by the defector, and found a mountain with tunnel entrances that look likely to lead to an underground facility.

“One government expert familiar with North Korea’s nuclear program concurred that this underground site is a credible suspect centrifuge site,” the report said.

The institute says the alleged uranium centrifuge likely no longer functioning, but the discovery gives insight into the early years of North Korea’s nuclear program and contradicts North Korea’s assertions that they maintained only one nuclear enrichment plant. North Korea admitted they had one nuclear enrichment site in 2010, but denied that they had any other enrichment facilities, the report says.

“It is necessary to identify where North Korea enriches uranium and part of that is understanding where it has done it in the past,” David Albright, president of the institute, told Reuters.

“It’s valuable in a historical sense, but unfortunately it doesn’t give us a way to evaluate the current scope of North Korea’s uranium arsenal,” Bruce Klingner of the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“The identification shows that it’s possible to use intelligence and open source information to identify North Korean facilities, but North Korea remains the hardest of hard targets.”

AllSource Analysis, which helped the institute determine the location of the nuclear plant, also captured a mass public execution by anti-aircraft guns in 2015.

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