Signs have been witnessed that North Korea is attempting to scale up the Yongbyon Nuclear Science and Weapons Research Center. According to satellite photos, it has recently worked to expand it to an extent that can accommodate one thousand centrifuges, which amounts to a 25 percent increase in the production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) or the core material of nuclear weapons in the Yongbyon center. Tensions are rising across the Korean Peninsula as Pyongyang has launched cruise and ballistic missiles and increased its efforts to operate nuclear facilities.
The Middlebury Institute of International Studies compared satellite images taken by commercial imaging company Maxar, said CNN on Thursday (local time). The images show a U-shaped building known as a uranium enrichment facility, which had trees in the middle with empty space covered with lawns back on Aug. 3. However, images taken on Sep. 1 describe exterior walls standing at the outer part of the empty space in the middle to connect to both sides of the building. Construction supplies and materials are left in the open space. The research center has gained an extra 1,000m², which is large enough to hold an additional 1,000 centrifuges. Jeffrey Lewis, a weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told CNN that Pyongyang can increase HEU production by as much as 25 percent.
Former IAEA deputy director Olli Heinonen said in an interview with VOA that Pyongyang seems to put pressure on Washington via the production of plutonium based on nuclear reactors, emphasizing that uranium enrichment is the biggest reason for Pyongyang’s nuclear production.
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