Value of Yongbyon nuclear site underestimated: think tank

By Park Han-na
  • Published : Feb 21, 2019 - 18:04
  • Updated : Feb 21, 2019 - 18:04

Dismantling the Yongbyon Nuclear Complex could be a meaningful step in North Korea’s denuclearization, as it is key to the country’s nuclear weapons program, a South Korean think tank said Thursday.

“While the Yongbyong nuclear facility has emerged as a primary target for the first phase of the denuclearization process, there are opinions that denigrate or belittle the value of the possible dismantlement,” said Hong Min, director of the North Korean research division of the Korea Institute for National Unification, during a forum hosted by the state-run think tank in Seoul. 

Hong Min, director of the North Korean research division of the Korea Institute for National Unification. (Yonhap)

“Some 90 percent of nuclear capability is linked to fissile material. Hence, the Yongbyon site, which produces fissile material, has important meaning (to North Korea’s denuclearization),” he said.

The Yongbyon complex reportedly has more than 390 buildings and a 5-megawatt electric reactor, a radiochemistry lab, also known as a reprocessing facility, and a nuclear fuel rod production facility.

“A notable fact is that the site seems to be the only place capable of producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium at the same time,” Ahn Jin-soo, a former researcher at the Korea Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation And Control, said at the forum.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has committed to the dismantlement and destruction of all North Korean plutonium and uranium sites, according to Steven Biegun, US special representative for North Korea, on Jan. 29.

Biegun also said the US wants to reach an agreement on expert access and monitoring mechanisms of key sites according to international standards, and ultimately ensure the removal and destruction of stockpiles of fissile material, weapons, missiles, launchers and other weapons of mass destruction.

Ahead of the US-North Korea summit next week, critics have expressed concerns that the meeting will only yield a “small deal,” or a low level of denuclearization measures, such as a freeze on Yongbyong’s production in exchange for minor concessions from the US, including the establishment of a liaison office in Pyongyang.

Kim had expressed his willingness to accept the “permanent dismantlement” of the plant in exchange for corresponding measures, when he met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang in September last year.

By Park Han-na (