‘Hundreds’ of centrifuges operating at North Korean enrichment plant

22 November 2010

A Stanford University professor and former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory reported seeing ‘hundreds and hundreds’ of centrifuges set up in an "ultra-modern control room."

Siegfried Hecker recently returned from North Korea, where he and colleagues visited the site of a new nuclear reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear facility north of its capital Pyongyang.

Hecker said in a report posted on the Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation that in November he had toured a new, modern North Korean uranium enrichment plant equipped with at least 1,000 centrifuges.

American and international inspectors were expelled from North Korea in April 2009 and at that time, the international community and the US had no knowledge of the plant’s existence. This has raised concerns about the speed with which the plant has been built and become operational. “This validates a long-standing concern that we’ve had with respect to North Korea and — and its enrichment of uranium. It also continues to validate a country that is led by a dictator who is constantly — who constantly desires to destabilize the region,” said. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the ABC News program “This Week.”

Hecker told the New York Times that he had been "stunned" by the sophisticated new plant and that he had already privately informed the White House of his findings a few days ago after his return. The North Koreans had claimed some 2,000 centrifuges were already installed and running in the plant, which Hecker was allowed to tour, the Times reported. Hecker said he was forbidden from taking photographs and could not verify North Korean claims that the plant was already producing low-enriched uranium."There are reasons to question whether that's true," Hecker told the NYT, adding that he had doubts whether Pyongyang would be able to complete the project.

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