December 2019 Update: Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and While speculation (sometimes wild) continues to grow concerning a North Korean end-of-year “surprise,” Beyond Parallel is continuing its recent series of surveys of the North’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) facilities to determine if there are any new developments. It is our desire to provide objective and factual information to enable decision-makers, policymakers and the general public to better understand the important aspects of the threat posed by North Korea and provide assistance to all in arriving at calm and informed decisions. Our recent surveys include the Sinpo South Shipyard, Sohae Satellite Launching Station, Nampo Submersible Test Stand Barge and Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Stand.

December 2019 Update: The Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and The Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility is located a few kilometers west of the Hamhung-Hungnam area and along the east coast of North Korea. December 6 imagery shows minor activity at the facility, including the presence of a small truck and some crates. Although no recent test appears to have taken place (i.e., absence of scarring in the exhaust deflector and healthy surrounding vegetation), the facility appears to be well-maintained and ready for solid rocket motor testing at any time. A successful test of solid fuel propellant engine, particularly at the east test stand, would denote another major advancement in survivable nuclear weapons capability, and would presumably also be designed to put additional pressure on the U.S. to make concessions in negotiations.

Sohae Engine Test Part of Coercive Diplomacy Tactic as End-of-Year Deadline Approaches

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and On December 7, North Korea conducted what it described as a “…very important test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground.” Satellite imagery in the days leading up to and after the test clearly shows that this was a rocket engine test at the vertical engine test stand at Sohae. This test was most probably of a liquid-fuel rocket engine as only liquid-fuel rocket engines have previously been tested here, while large solid rocket motors have been tested at the Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility on the east coast and elsewhere. Whether the liquid-fuel rocket engine was an existing model or a new one is unknown.

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.