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Seoul/Washington: North Korea continues to operate its key uranium plant, a US think tank said, suggesting a steady growth in Pyongyang’s stockpile of the material used to build nuclear weapons.
Citing recent satellite imagery, Beyond Parallel, a project of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, reported the North’s Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant remains operational and is producing uranium concentrate, Yonhap News Agency reported on Tuesday.
“The main plant of the Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant continues to show activity consistent with the continued production of uranium concentrate and ongoing maintenance efforts,” the report said, citing commercial satellite imagery collected between April and October.
It said some panels on the roof of a “leaching and classifying building” at the Pyongsan plant appeared to have been replaced due to deterioration that it said “is caused by acid vapour condensing on the underside of the roof panels”.
The report noted the Pyongsan plant remains the “sole verified producer of uranium concentrate”, also known as yellowcake.
“As such it represents the foundation upon which the nation’s production of fissile material for nuclear weapons is built,” it said.
The Pyongsan facility is located some 45 km north of the inter-Korean border.
North Korea has staged six nuclear tests with its last test being conducted in September 2017.
The North, however, has repeatedly vowed to continue bolstering its nuclear capability as a deterrent against what it claims to be US hostility toward it.
“Given the observed level of activity and North Korean statements concerning the importance of continued development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and barring any unforeseen developments, the plant will undoubtedly remain operational for the foreseeable future.
“The dismantlement of the Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant should be an essential component to any meaningful future ‘complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement’ nuclear agreement between the US and North Korea,” the report added.