The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Gross, in his latest report to the Board of Governors on “Application of Safeguards in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” says the DPRK’s nuclear activities “continue to be a cause for serious concern”.
The report, dated 27 August, “provides an update of developments of direct relevance” since the previous report issued on 3 September 2020.
During the reporting period, the Agency “has continued to monitor developments in the DPRK’s nuclear programme and to evaluate all safeguards relevant information available to it, including open source information and satellite imagery”. The Agency has not had access to the Yongbyon site or to other locations in the DPRK. “Without such access, the Agency cannot confirm either the operational status or the configuration/design features of the facilities or locations as described in this section, or the nature and purpose of the activities conducted therein.”
With respect to the Yongbyon Site, the details of developments observed at the site during the reporting period are as follows:
- Yongbyon Experimental Nuclear Power Plant (5MW(e)). There were no indications of reactor operation from early December 2018 to the beginning of July 2021. However, since early July 2021, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor.
- Radiochemical Laboratory. The steam plant that serves the Radiochemical Laboratory operated for approximately five months, from mid-February 2021 until early July 2021. The duration of the operation of the steam plant and Radiochemical Laboratory in 2021 is significantly longer than that observed in the past during possible waste treatment or maintenance activities. The five-month timeframe is consistent with the time required to reprocess a complete core of irradiated fuel from the 5MW(e) reactor, according to design information for the Radiochemical Laboratory provided by the DPRK to the Agency in 1992. In 2003, 2005, and 2009, the DPRK announced that it had conducted reprocessing campaigns at the Radiochemical Laboratory, each of which had lasted approximately five months.
- Yongbyon Nuclear Fuel Rod Fabrication Plant. The reported centrifuge enrichment facility is located within the Yongbyon Nuclear Fuel Rod Fabrication Plant. During the reporting period, while regular vehicular movements were observed, there were indications, for a period of time, that the reported centrifuge enrichment facility was not in operation. Emissions have been observed at the UO2 Production Process Building.
- Light Water Reactor (LWR) under construction. Observations of activity near the LWR, including deliveries of materials and the presence of construction vehicles, indicate that internal construction work has continued during the reporting period. However, no additional transfers of major reactor components have been observed. No indications of reactor operation were observed, although there were indications of further testing of the infrastructure for cooling water during late 2020, and again in March and in April 2021. Based on the information currently available, it is not possible to estimate when the reactor could become operational.
- The Pyongsan Mine and Concentration Plant. There have been indications of ongoing mining, milling and concentration activities at locations previously declared as the Pyongsan uranium mine and the Pyongsan uranium concentration plant.
- Kangson Complex. As previously reported, the Agency has continued to evaluate all safeguards relevant information, including satellite imagery and open source information, about a group of buildings within a security perimeter at Kangson, in the vicinity of Pyongyang. The construction of the Kangson complex took place before the construction of the reported centrifuge enrichment facility at Yongbyon, a sequence which is consistent with the Agency’s assessed chronology of the development of the DPRK’s reported uranium enrichment programme. In addition, the Kangson complex shares infrastructure characteristics with the reported centrifuge enrichment facility at Yongbyon. There were indications of ongoing activities at the Kangson complex during the reporting period.
In summary, the IAEA says that, during the reporting period, there were indications of the operation of the Radiochemical Laboratory from mid-February to early July 2021. This period of operation is consistent with previous reprocessing campaigns announced by the DPRK of irradiated fuel discharged from the 5MW(e) reactor. Since early July 2021, there have been indications consistent with the operation of the 5MW(e) reactor. While regular vehicular movements were observed, there were indications, for a period of time, that the Yongbyon reported centrifuge enrichment facility was not in operation. There were indications of ongoing activities at the Kangson complex. There were indications that the DPRK has continued internal construction activities at the LWR under construction.
IAEA says the DPRK’s nuclear activities continue to be a cause for serious concern. “Furthermore, the new indications of the operation of the 5MW(e) reactor and the Radiochemical Laboratory are deeply troubling. The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.” The Director General continues to call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the Agency in the full and effective implementation of its NPT Safeguards Agreement and to resolve all outstanding issues, especially those that have arisen during the absence of Agency inspectors from the DPRK. “The Agency continues to maintain its enhanced readiness to return to the DPRK and to strengthen its ability to play its essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear programme.”