New activity has been observed at a suspected secret factory in North Korea, raising concerns that the secret country could build new nuclear weapons.
The Kangson facility, near Pyongyang, began to take shape in the early 2000s and is believed to have been enriching weapons-grade uranium for 17 years.
It has been on the US intelligence radar since 2007, but now the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seems to have confirmed that the site is nuclear in nature and is currently operating.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the IAEA, said, “We are trying to refine Kangson’s analysis.
“We were a bit more careful at the beginning, but with further analysis we can see that this is a relevant place where activity takes place.”
In a 2018 exposé, US-based magazine The Diplomat described how Kangson ticked the boxes for a secret nuclear site.
At the heart is a hall 50 meters long and 110 meters wide, which is believed to house the centrifuge cascades that produce highly enriched uranium.
Snow never collects on the roof, even if nearby roofs are covered, suggesting that it produces heat year-round, satellite photos showed.
Plus, it’s just a mile from a major highway – a lifeline for a facility that generates a lot of waste and needs to be replenished regularly – and it’s less than four miles from Chamjin Missile Factory.
Revealingly, it is also the only major facility in the area that Kim Jong-un and his predecessor Kim Jong-il have never visited in North Korean propaganda.
It is even surrounded by a one-kilometer-long wall, which indicates a highly protected area.
A number of support buildings on the site are said to be home to scientists, engineers and other personnel.
A US intelligence source told The Diplomat that Kangson’s capacity could be twice that of the Yongbyon site, another nuclear facility recognized by Kim’s regime.
While another US government source estimated in 2017 that North Korea had enough fissile material between the two sites for 12 new nuclear weapons per year.
A suspected third location has since been discovered by US military intelligence.
Mr Grossi said it is important to identify Kangson as a nuclear site in case North Korea decides to return IAEA inspectors to the country.
He said: “For me this is important because when we return to the DPRK – and I hope we will – we will have a much wider range of facilities and places for us to visit.
“So it’s good that we get a sense of what could be happening in different parts of the country.”
Mr. Grossi also confirmed that up-to-date satellite imagery helped them keep track of the site.
“That’s it all,” he said.
“It’s more information, but it may also be more inspectors, more equipment and that takes time.
“And we are at a time of huge budget constraints, so we are basically relying on voluntary contributions from some countries to help us strengthen our operation.
“Because if something happens, we’re asked to be there immediately and if we’re not prepared it would be pretty bad.”