Yongbyon Update: November Movement of Radioactive Material?

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by , and Recent satellite imagery from November 2019 shows the presence of four specialized railcars that have been associated with the movement of radioactive material in the past. The last observed movement of these railcars by Beyond Parallel was in April 2019. It is unclear whether the railcars are being used for the outbound shipment of irradiated liquid or solid waste, disassembled but contaminated equipment or the movement of fissile material to facilities outside the Yongbyon area. A less likely alternative is the inbound shipment of radioactive material from a facility outside the Yongbyon area.

Living History with Minister Song Min-soon

Foreign Affairs, Nuclear Weapons
This Living History interview features former South Korean minister of foreign affairs and trade, Song Min-soon. Song was director general for North American affairs and chief delegate during the six-party talks in 2005. He played a key role in the multilateral denuclearization agreement with North Korea, involving the United States, Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia, achieved in September 2005.

Yongbyon Declassified Part VI: Improved Road Networks

Nuclear Weapons
, by Collected 14 months after the image provided in Part 5 (November 21, 1968) this March 17, 1970 KH-4B image of the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center shows continued expansion within the village of Sang-dong, minor improvements in the operations, administration/laboratory and support areas, slowly continuing construction of the bridge across the Kuryong-gang and minor infrastructure improvements in the Pungang-ni area. Taken as a whole, these developments continue to indicate an ongoing first-phase construction project for the facility and very early infrastructure development efforts within a longer-term plan for future expansion.

Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: Imagery Supports ROK and U.S. Government Reservations about Permanent Disablement

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and Analysis of satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility acquired during 2019 and more specifically on September 23rd and October 9th, 2019 shows the facility in caretaker status, likely being maintained by security personnel. While there is no evidence of current efforts to restore any of the nuclear test portals, several observations lead us to believe the facility has not been permanently disabled and that the detonations in May 2018 are not necessarily irreversible.

Yongbyon Declassified Part V: Expansion Begins Across the Kuryong-gang

Nuclear Weapons
, by Collected eleven months after the image provided in Part 4 (December 10, 1967) this November 21, 1968 KH-4B image of the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center does not show any significant developments in the operations (with the IRT-2000 research reactor), support or administrative/laboratory areas. It does, however, show continuing development within the village of Sang-dong and the early stages of construction for a new road bridge across the Kuryong-gang in the Pungang-ni area that will connect the support area to the opposite side of the river. Taken as a whole, these developments represent both continuation of a first-phase construction project for the facility and the earliest infrastructure development stages within a longer-term plan for future expansion.

Pakchon Uranium Concentrate Pilot Plant

Analysis, Nuclear Weapons
, by and The Pakchon Uranium Concentrate Pilot Plant is one of only two declared and known uranium concentrate plants in North Korea (Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant at Pyongsan is the other). This facility was used for Yellowcake production at least through the mid-1990s, and therefore would require inspection under any new U.S.-DPRK denuclearization declaration and agreement as it has not been subject to international inspection for over 25 years since IAEA visits to the site as part of the Full Scope Safeguards Agreement process in 1992.

Is the State Department’s “Commission on Unalienable Rights” Relevant for North Korea?

Human Rights
, by At a press conference last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights. He explained its purpose: “The commission is composed of human rights experts, philosophers, and activists, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents of varied background and beliefs, who will provide me with advice on human rights grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” The membership of the commission is a distinguished and diverse group of individuals, but the responsibility assigned to the commission seems to raise questions.

Yongbyon Declassified Part IV: Continued Construction Observed into 1967

Nuclear Weapons
, by Acquired almost two years after the image provided in Yongbyon Declassified Part III (February 11, 1966), this December 10, 1967 image of the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center is one of the first acquired by the improved reconnaissance KH-4B. Among other improvements, the resolution of the newer KH-4B was 1.8 meters versus 2.7 meters of the earlier KH-4A allowing for considerably better image quality.

Yongbyon Declassified Part III: Significant Construction of Facilities at Nascent Yongbyon Nuclear Site by 1966

Nuclear Weapons
, by Acquired seven months after the image provided in Yongbyon Declassified Part II (August 23, 1965) this 2.7-meter resolution image covers the Yongbyon area on February 11, 1966. While the general area remains primarily engaged in agricultural activity typical of rural North Korea during the 1960s, significant construction activity is observed at the nascent Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center and adjacent village of Sang-dong.

Yongbyon: Movement of Specialized Railcars May Indicate Transfer of Radioactive Material

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and DigitalGlobe satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Research Facility acquired on April 12th shows the presence of five specialized railcars near the Uranium Enrichment Facility and the Radiochemistry Laboratory. In the past these specialized railcars appear to have been associated with the movement of radioactive material or reprocessing campaigns.

North Korea’s No. 17 Explosives Factory: No Significant Activity

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and Satellite imagery acquired on March 21, 2019 and over the past six months indicates that the No. 17 Explosives Factory near Hamhung is active. While no significant changes have occurred with its infrastructure during this period, the factory was expanded during 2012 with the construction of a large mixing/casting facility capable of producing large solid-propellant rocket motors for ballistic missiles.

Sohae Launch Facility Update—Work Continues; Concealment of Launch Pad and Engine Test Stand

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and Commercial satellite imagery acquired on both March 6 and March 8, 2019, shows that North Korea has continued preparations on the launch pad and the vertical engine test stand at the Sohae Launch Facility. Based on past practices, these activities could be consistent with preparations for the delivery of a rocket to the launch pad or engine to the test stand; or, they could be North Korean coercive bargaining tactics after the failed Hanoi summit.

Undeclared North Korea: The Sangnam-ni Missile Operating Base

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by , and Located 250 kilometers north of the DMZ, Sangnam-ni missile operating base is an operational missile base that houses a battalion- or regiment-sized unit equipped with Hwasong-10 (Musudan) intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM). Multiple flight failures of the Musudan missile in 2016 could have also led the KPA Strategic Force to abandon the system and replace it with the more successful Hwasong-12 IRBM.

Undeclared North Korea: The Sino-ri Missile Operating Base and Strategic Force Facilities

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by , and Located 212 kilometers north of the DMZ, Sino-ri is an operational missile base that houses a regiment-sized unit equipped with Nodong-1/-2 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM). It is one of the oldest of approximately 20 undeclared missile operating bases and is reported to serve as the headquarters of the Strategic Rocket Forces Nodong missile brigade. It may have also played a role in development of the newest generation Pukkuksong-2 (KN-15) ballistic missile first tested or unveiled by North Korea on February 12, 2017.

Making Solid Tracks: North Korea’s Railway Connections with China and Russia

Infrastructure & Energy
, by , and Should inter-Korean cooperation result in the re-connection of the railways in North and South Korea, the rail networks of the Korean peninsula could then be integrated into a rail network spanning the Eurasian continent through China and Russia. If actualized, this would mark a significant diplomatic and geopolitical accomplishment for the Korean peninsula. Nonetheless, a long and significant modernization process will need to take place to fully integrate the systems in a commercially viable way.

Making Solid Tracks: North and South Korean Railway Cooperation

Infrastructure & Energy
, by , and North and South Korea are moving forward with inter-Korean railway cooperation as a key engine for advancing inter-Korean reconciliation and building the infrastructure for eventual unification. Once connected, however, a significant modernization and harmonization process will need to take place to fully integrate the systems in a commercially viable way.

Undeclared North Korea: The Sakkanmol Missile Operating Base

, by , and Sakkanmol is an undeclared North Korean operational missile base for short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and is one of approximately 20 undeclared missile sites and one of the closest to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and Seoul, giving it the shortest flight time. Sakkanmol currently houses a unit equipped with SRBMs but could easily accommodate more capable medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs).

Undeclared North Korea: Missile Operating Bases Revealed

, by , and New research undertaken by Beyond Parallel has located 13 of an estimated 20 North Korean missile operating bases that are undeclared by the government. These missile operating bases, which can be used for all classes of ballistic missile from short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) up to and including intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), would presumably have to be subject to declaration, verification, and dismantlement in any final and fully verifiable denuclearization deal.