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N. Korea's nuclear complex well-maintained, shows little activity: 38 North

All News 03:07 January 11, 2019

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's main nuclear complex appears well-maintained but barely operational, a U.S. website said, citing last month's satellite imagery.

The facilities in Yongbyon are key to the North's development of nuclear weapons, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in September he could shut it down permanently if the U.S. took "corresponding measures."

But denuclearization negotiations have stalled since U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim met in Singapore in June.

"While the site remains operational and is still well maintained, the main facilities do not appear to be operating," 38 North, a project of the Stimson Center, said in article dated Jan. 9. "The one possible exception is the Uranium Enrichment Plant (UEP), although if it is operating, in what capacity remains unclear."

No snow was seen on the roofs of the two gas centrifuge halls in the imagery taken Dec. 19. That may be the natural result of sun exposure, but it could also indicate ongoing operations that have made the facility warmer than nearby buildings, the article said.

To back the latter conclusion, there are "two patches of possible frozen water vapor" near the UEP's cooling units, which could be the result of waste heat being dumped by the units.

"If operating, the centrifuges inside are likely, at a minimum, being maintained and spinning," the article said. "Whether or not the spinning centrifuges are being fed with uranium for enrichment processing is impossible to determine based on imagery alone."

The other main facilities at the complex, including the 5 MWe reactor, the radiochemical plant and experimental light water reactor, are covered in snow, according to the imagery.

Meanwhile, following the light snowfall just prior to Dec. 19, the imagery showed "substantial" recent snow clearing and vehicle and personnel tracking, "providing evidence that the entire site remains active and well maintained."


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