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(LEAD) U.S. institute claims discovery of former secret N. Korean uranium facility

All News 09:53 July 22, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with details, background)

WASHINGTON, July 21 (Yonhap) -- A U.S. research institute claimed Thursday that it has located a suspected secret nuclear facility that North Korea used in the early stages of its uranium enrichment program.

"Recent information suggests that an early centrifuge research and development (R&D) facility was located at the Panghyon Aircraft Plant, at or near the Panghyon Air Base, which is located about 45 kilometers west of the Yongbyon nuclear site," the Institute for Science and International Studies said in a report.

"This is a preliminary site identification and requires additional confirmation," it said.

Suspicions have long persisted that the North might have had secret uranium enrichment facilities in addition to the one in its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon that the communist nation disclosed to the outside world.

The institute said in a report that it obtained information from "knowledgeable government officials" suggesting that a secret centrifuge development plant had existed and was associated with an underground aircraft spare parts manufacturing and assembly facility.

Based on information from the government sources and analysis of commercial satellite imagery, the institute has determined that the most likely site of this facility is the Panghyon Aircraft Plant, the report said.

"The suspect site could have held up to 200-300 centrifuges, according to a knowledgeable official. We have no information suggesting that this site continues to function as a centrifuge plant," the institute said.

"One government expert familiar with North Korea's nuclear program concurred that this underground site is a credible suspect centrifuge site. We are seeking additional confirmation," it said.

Geo-locating suspect sites is critical to any future nuclear agreements with the North, it said.

"If negotiations resume and are successful, it will be critical to include all the major North Korean centrifuge plants in any plan for freezing, monitoring, and dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons programs," it said.

The current nuclear standoff began in late 2002, with revelations that Pyongyang had pursued a clandestine uranium enrichment program. The North had initially denied the revelations, but disclosed the uranium enrichment facility to a visiting American scientist in 2010.

The six-party talks aimed at resolving the standoff have been stalled since late 2008.


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