38 North Examines North Korea’s Kangson

Recent commercial satellite imagery analysis by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, published by The Diplomat, identifies what is suspected to be a uranium enrichment facility in Chollima District, Nampo City. However, while the intelligence community has been monitoring this site for more than a decade, its actual function is still in question. It does have some of the characteristics of a site for production of weapons grade material, but a variety of contextual factors, especially the location, suggest it has been built and is being used for some other purpose.[1]

The Evidence for a New Uranium Enrichment Facility

A recent article in The Diplomat reported to have found what is suspected to be a covert North Korean facility for processing highly enriched uranium in Chollima District, Nampo City. The article describes a large industrial plant “assumed to contain the main gas centrifuge cascades, which output uranium highly enriched in uranium-235 and suitable for use in nuclear weapons.” It also identifies a long driveway, security fencing, a monument of Kim, what appear to be residential apartments, and the presence of trucks and other vehicles. According to the article, this facility may have been in service since the early 2000s.

In some ways, the facility seems well-suited for uranium enrichment. Because of its location, the site would be optimal for DPRK scientists and technical personnel to conduct experiments; they would have ready access to convey documents and status reports to Pyongyang and easy access to Kim Chaek University, Kim Il Sung University and the State Academy of Sciences, where technical resources or personnel can be accessed. However, that is not how working-level experts or personnel in the DPRK’s WMD programs operate or function.

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About the author

Michael Madden

Michael Madden is a Nonresident Fellow at the Stimson Center and founder and director of NK Leadership Watch, an all-source analysis website focused on North Korea, its political culture and the organizational behavior of state and security organizations. He has authored over two dozen analytical products on North Korean politics and its national security community as well as over 200 biographical sketches and institutional profiles about key North Korean officials and institutions. A frequent contributor to 38 North, his writing on North Korean politics and elite culture has also appeared in the BBC, CNN, Foreign Policy and Korean Peninsula Through the Lens. From 2005 to 2011, he was the administrative and research assistant to Dr. David L. Robbins at Suffolk University, Boston and Charles University, Prague, and was administrator of intercultural studies and education programs in China, the Czech Republic and over 20 other countries in Europe, Africa and east Asia.