Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center

Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center

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The Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center is North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

's major nuclear facility, operating its first nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

s. It is located in the county of Nyŏngbyŏn
Nyongbyon
Nyongbyon-gun, alternatively Yongbyon-gun, is a county in North Pyongan province, North Korea. It borders the cities of Kaech'on and Anju, and covers an area of 504 km²....

 in North Pyongan province, about 90 km north of Pyongyang
Pyongyang
Pyongyang is the capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, commonly known as North Korea, and the largest city in the country. Pyongyang is located on the Taedong River and, according to preliminary results from the 2008 population census, has a population of 3,255,388. The city was...

. The center produced the fissile material for North Korea's nuclear weapon tests in 2006
2006 North Korean nuclear test
The 2006 North Korean nuclear test was the detonation of a nuclear device conducted on October 9, 2006 by North Korea.North Korea announced its intention to conduct a test on October 3, six days prior, and in doing so became the first nation to give warning of its first nuclear test...

 and 2009
2009 North Korean nuclear test
The 2009 North Korean nuclear test was the underground detonation of a nuclear device conducted on 25 May 2009 by North Korea. This was its second nuclear test, the first test having taken place in October 2006. Following the nuclear test, Pyongyang also conducted several missile tests.The test was...

, and since 2009 is developing indigenous light water reactor
Light water reactor
The light water reactor is a type of thermal reactor that uses normal water as its coolant and neutron moderator. Thermal reactors are the most common type of nuclear reactor, and light water reactors are the most common type of thermal reactor...

 nuclear power station technology.

Facilities


The major installations include all aspects of a Magnox
Magnox
Magnox is a now obsolete type of nuclear power reactor which was designed and is still in use in the United Kingdom, and was exported to other countries, both as a power plant, and, when operated accordingly, as a producer of plutonium for nuclear weapons...

 nuclear reactor fuel cycle
Nuclear fuel cycle
The nuclear fuel cycle, also called nuclear fuel chain, is the progression of nuclear fuel through a series of differing stages. It consists of steps in the front end, which are the preparation of the fuel, steps in the service period in which the fuel is used during reactor operation, and steps in...

, based on the use of natural uranium
Natural uranium
Natural uranium refers to refined uranium with the same isotopic ratio as found in nature. It contains 0.7 % uranium-235, 99.3 % uranium-238, and a trace of uranium-234 by weight. In terms of the amount of radioactivity, approximately 2.2 % comes from uranium-235, 48.6 % uranium-238, and 49.2 %...

 fuel:
  • a fuel
    Nuclear fuel
    Nuclear fuel is a material that can be 'consumed' by fission or fusion to derive nuclear energy. Nuclear fuels are the most dense sources of energy available...

     fabrication plant,
  • a 5 MWe
    MWE
    MWE may refer to:*Manufacturer's Weight Empty*McDermott Will & Emery*Midwest Express, an airline*Merowe Airport - IATA code*Multiword expressionMWe may refer to:*Megawatt electrical...

     experimental reactor producing power and district heating,
  • a short-term spent fuel
    Spent nuclear fuel
    Spent nuclear fuel, occasionally called used nuclear fuel, is nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor...

     storage facility,
  • a fuel reprocessing
    Nuclear reprocessing
    Nuclear reprocessing technology was developed to chemically separate and recover fissionable plutonium from irradiated nuclear fuel. Reprocessing serves multiple purposes, whose relative importance has changed over time. Originally reprocessing was used solely to extract plutonium for producing...

     facility that recovers uranium
    Uranium
    Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

     and plutonium
    Plutonium
    Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

     from spent fuel
    Spent nuclear fuel
    Spent nuclear fuel, occasionally called used nuclear fuel, is nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor...

     using the PUREX
    PUREX
    PUREX is an acronym standing for Plutonium - URanium EXtraction — de facto standard aqueous nuclear reprocessing method for the recovery of uranium and plutonium from used nuclear fuel. It is based on liquid-liquid extraction ion-exchange.The PUREX process was invented by Herbert H. Anderson and...

     process.

Magnox spent fuel is not designed for long-term storage as both the casing and uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 metal core react with water, it is designed to be reprocessed within a few years of removal from a reactor. As a carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 cooled, graphite
Nuclear Graphite
Nuclear graphite is any grade of graphite, usually electro-graphite, specifically manufactured for use as a moderator or reflector within nuclear reactors...

 moderated
Neutron moderator
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235....

 Magnox reactor does not require difficult-to-produce enriched uranium
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium is a kind of uranium in which the percent composition of uranium-235 has been increased through the process of isotope separation. Natural uranium is 99.284% 238U isotope, with 235U only constituting about 0.711% of its weight...

 fuel or heavy water
Heavy water
Heavy water is water highly enriched in the hydrogen isotope deuterium; e.g., heavy water used in CANDU reactors is 99.75% enriched by hydrogen atom-fraction...

 moderator it is an attractive choice for a wholly indigenous nuclear reactor development.

The Magnox facilities were disabled in 2007 in accord with the six-party talks
Six-party talks
The six-party talks aim to find a peaceful resolution to the security concerns as a result of the North Korean nuclear weapons program.There has been a series of meetings with six participating states:* The Democratic People's Republic of Korea ;...

 agreement, but following the breakdown of that agreement were partially re-enabled in 2009 to reprocess existing stocks of spent fuel.

The center also has an IRT-2000 pool-type research reactor
Research reactor
Research reactors are nuclear reactors that serve primarily as a neutron source. They are also called non-power reactors, in contrast to power reactors that are used for electricity production, heat generation, or maritime propulsion.-Purpose:...

, supplied by the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 in 1963, operational since 1965. The reactor fuel is IRT-2M type assemblies of 36% and 80% highly enriched uranium. As the center has not received fresh fuel since Soviet times, this reactor is now only run occasionally to produce Iodine-131
Iodine-131
Iodine-131 , also called radioiodine , is an important radioisotope of iodine. It has a radioactive decay half-life of about eight days. Its uses are mostly medical and pharmaceutical...

 for thyroid cancer
Thyroid cancer
Thyroid neoplasm is a neoplasm or tumor of the thyroid. It can be a benign tumor such as thyroid adenoma, or it can be a malignant neoplasm , such as papillary, follicular, medullary or anaplastic thyroid cancer. Most patients are 25 to 65 years of age when first diagnosed; women are more affected...

 radiation therapy
Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy , radiation oncology, or radiotherapy , sometimes abbreviated to XRT or DXT, is the medical use of ionizing radiation, generally as part of cancer treatment to control malignant cells.Radiation therapy is commonly applied to the cancerous tumor because of its ability to control...

.

In 2009 North Korea announced its intention to build an indigenous experimental light water reactor
Light water reactor
The light water reactor is a type of thermal reactor that uses normal water as its coolant and neutron moderator. Thermal reactors are the most common type of nuclear reactor, and light water reactors are the most common type of thermal reactor...

 and the uranium enrichment technology to provide its nuclear fuel. In 2010 a 2,000 gas centrifuge
Gas centrifuge
A gas centrifuge is a device that performs isotope separation of gases. A centrifuge relies on the principles of centripetal force accelerating molecules so that particles of different masses are physically separated in a gradient along the radius of a rotating container.A prominent use of gas...

 uranium enrichment plant to produce low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel began operating, and construction started on the experimental 25 to 30 MWe light water reactor, with a target operation date for the reactor of 2012. In November 2011, satellite imagery indicated that the reactor construction is progressing rapidly.

History



Construction of the 5 MWe experimental reactor began in 1980, and the reactor first went critical
Critical mass
A critical mass is the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction. The critical mass of a fissionable material depends upon its nuclear properties A critical mass is the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction. The...

 in August 1985. This reactor was an initial small technology proving reactor for a following development program of larger Magnox reactors. It operated intermittently until 1994 when it was shut down in accordance with the U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework. Following the breakdown of the Agreed Framework in 2002, operation restarted in February 2003, creating plutonium
Plutonium
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

 within its fuel load at a rate of about 6 kg per year. The reactor fuel was replaced between April and June 2005. The spent nuclear fuel
Spent nuclear fuel
Spent nuclear fuel, occasionally called used nuclear fuel, is nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor...

 has been reprocessed with an estimated yield of about 24 to 42 kg of plutonium metal, some of which was used for the nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s involved in the 2006
2006 North Korean nuclear test
The 2006 North Korean nuclear test was the detonation of a nuclear device conducted on October 9, 2006 by North Korea.North Korea announced its intention to conduct a test on October 3, six days prior, and in doing so became the first nation to give warning of its first nuclear test...

 and 2009 North Korean nuclear test
2009 North Korean nuclear test
The 2009 North Korean nuclear test was the underground detonation of a nuclear device conducted on 25 May 2009 by North Korea. This was its second nuclear test, the first test having taken place in October 2006. Following the nuclear test, Pyongyang also conducted several missile tests.The test was...

s.

Yongbyon is also the site of a 50 MWe
MWE
MWE may refer to:*Manufacturer's Weight Empty*McDermott Will & Emery*Midwest Express, an airline*Merowe Airport - IATA code*Multiword expressionMWe may refer to:*Megawatt electrical...

 Magnox prototype power reactor, but construction was halted in 1994 about a year from completion in accord with the Agreed Framework, and by 2004 the structures and pipework had deteriorated badly. This construction was being dismantled in 2010.

Another 200 MWe Magnox full-scale power reactor was being constructed at Taechon
Taechon
Taechon, also spelled Thaechon, is a kun, or county, in central North Pyongan province, North Korea. It borders Taegwan and Tongchang to the north, Unsan and Nyongbyon to the east, Pakchon and Unjon to the south, and Kusong to the west....

, 20 km north-west of Yongbyon, (39.928°N 125.569°W) until construction was also halted in 1994 in accord with the Agreed Framework. By 2005 reconstruction of this reactor was uneconomic.

The reactor designs were based on declassified information about the British Magnox
Magnox
Magnox is a now obsolete type of nuclear power reactor which was designed and is still in use in the United Kingdom, and was exported to other countries, both as a power plant, and, when operated accordingly, as a producer of plutonium for nuclear weapons...

 design at Calder Hall and elsewhere, and the spent fuel reprocessing plant on the multi-national European Company for the Chemical Processing of Irradiated Fuels (EUROCHEMIC) plant at Mol-Dessel
Dessel
Dessel is a municipality located in the Belgian province of Antwerp. The municipality comprises only the town of Dessel proper. On January 1, 2006 Dessel had a total population of 8,773 inhabitants...

 in Belgium.

2007 shutdown



On Tuesday 13 February 2007, an agreement was reached at the Six party talks
Six-party talks
The six-party talks aim to find a peaceful resolution to the security concerns as a result of the North Korean nuclear weapons program.There has been a series of meetings with six participating states:* The Democratic People's Republic of Korea ;...

 that North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

 will shut down and seal the Magnox nuclear reactor and associated facilities and invite back International Atomic Energy Agency
International Atomic Energy Agency
The International Atomic Energy Agency is an international organization that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons. The IAEA was established as an autonomous organization on 29 July 1957...

 personnel to conduct all necessary monitoring and verifications. In return for this North Korea
North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , , is a country in East Asia, occupying the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Its capital and largest city is Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone serves as the buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea...

 will receive emergency energy assistance from the other 5 parties in the form of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.

International Atomic Energy Agency
International Atomic Energy Agency
The International Atomic Energy Agency is an international organization that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons. The IAEA was established as an autonomous organization on 29 July 1957...

 (IAEA) inspectors arrived at the site on June 28 to discuss verification and monitoring arrangements for the shutdown. This had been delayed from April due to a dispute with the United States over Banco Delta Asia
Banco Delta Asia
Banco Delta Asia is a Macao-based bank owned by the Delta Asia Financial Group and founded in 1935 by Au Wing Ngok, father of Stanley Au, the current chairman and majority shareholder. It the 10th largest bank in Macao with eight branches and 150 employees.In March 2007, the U.S. Treasury ordered...

. On June 3 an anonymous South Korean government official indicated that the shutdown may start following the first oil shipment later in the month. On July 14, Sean McCormack
Sean McCormack
Sean McCormack is a former United States Assistant Secretary of State. He was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Department Spokesman on June 2, 2005, and served until January 20, 2009.-Early career:...

 stated that North Korea had told the US that the reactor had been shut down. He added that the US welcomed the news, and was awaiting verification from the IAEA team. The next day, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei announced the UN's confirmation that the reactor had been shut down. On 18 July 2007, the IAEA confirmed that all five nuclear facilities at Yongbyon had been shut down.

In his Introductory Statement to the IAEA Board of Governors on 2008-03-03, the Director General stated that he could not provide an update on the disabling of the facilities, as it was not undertaken by the IAEA. All fuel rods from the 5 MWe Experimental Nuclear Power Plant and nuclear material generated by the disabling of the Nuclear Fuel Fabrication Plant were under IAEA containment and surveillance.

2008 cooling tower demolition


On Friday 27 June 2008, North Korea destroyed the most visible symbol of its nuclear weapons program - the cooling tower
Cooling tower
Cooling towers are heat removal devices used to transfer process waste heat to the atmosphere. Cooling towers may either use the evaporation of water to remove process heat and cool the working fluid to near the wet-bulb air temperature or in the case of closed circuit dry cooling towers rely...

 at its main atomic reactor in the complex. The implosion was witnessed by a number of international journalists and diplomats.

The demolition of the 60 feet (18.3 m)-tall cooling tower, which carried off waste heat to the atmosphere, is a response to U.S. concessions after the North delivered a declaration of its nuclear programs to be dismantled. The United States paid the US$2.5 million demolition fee.

Possible reactivation


During 2008 tensions resurfaced between North Korea and the U.S. due to disagreements over the six-party talks
Six-party talks
The six-party talks aim to find a peaceful resolution to the security concerns as a result of the North Korean nuclear weapons program.There has been a series of meetings with six participating states:* The Democratic People's Republic of Korea ;...

 disarmament process. On October 8, 2008, IAEA
International Atomic Energy Agency
The International Atomic Energy Agency is an international organization that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons. The IAEA was established as an autonomous organization on 29 July 1957...

 inspectors were forbidden by the North Korean government to conduct further inspections of the site. However two days later the U.S. removed North Korea from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list and the Yongbyon deactivation process resumed.

Resumption of nuclear activities


According to the state-run North Korean news agency KCNA website, the DPRK resumed the processing of fuel rods to recover plutonium at Yongbyon on April 25, 2009 in response to the UN's condemnation of its recent rocket launch
Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2
In this regard, a delegation of fifteen strong Iranian rocket scientists, including senior officials with Iranian rocket and satellite producer Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, has been in the DPRK since the beginning of March, to help prepare for the launch...

. This material supplemented that used for nuclear weapons testing.

The DPRK had previously carried out an initial nuclear test on 9 October 2006. This first North Korean nuclear test on 9 October 2006 was detected immediately by the United Nation’s Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization seismic stations, despite its small yield; the findings were subsequently corroborated by the detection of radioactive noble gases from the test. As a result the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1718 condemning the test and demanding that the DPRK give up nuclear weapons. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea carried out a subsequent underground nuclear test on 25 May 2009. Sig Hecker, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, indicated that the DPRK program holds the potential for producing about six to eight bombs. Their initial weapons produced a limited-success nuclear test on 9 October 2006, with a yield estimated at between 0.3 to 1.0 kiloton.

The DPRK’s Korean Central News Agency announced that the 25 May 2009 test had demonstrated an increase in explosive power over its low-yield 2006 nuclear test. Russia's Defense Ministry provided a preliminary estimate that its yield was 10 to 20 kilotons - comparable to the bombs dropped by the US on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. However Park, writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a nontechnical online magazine that covers global security and public policy issues, especially related to the dangers posed by nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction...

, stated: "The reported estimates of Richter magnitude spread from 4.5-5, and the standard conversions to explosive yield suggest a yield of 2-6 kiloton-equivalents of TNT. Most of the latest Richter magnitude estimates have come in the low half of the 4.5-5 range, so it seems likely that the yield was 4 kilotons or smaller." From this he concluded, that the May 2009 explosion's yield "was still far short of the expected yield of a crude Hiroshima-type bomb. More than likely this means North Korea tried and failed to get a simple plutonium bomb to detonate correctly."

On November 12, 2010, the facility was visited by Siegfried Hecker who prepared an updated report demonstrating the unexpectedly advanced state of the plant. Among the surprising findings were the presence of 2,000 recently completed high-speed centrifuge
Centrifuge
A centrifuge is a piece of equipment, generally driven by an electric motor , that puts an object in rotation around a fixed axis, applying a force perpendicular to the axis...

s that are able to produce enriched uranium
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium is a kind of uranium in which the percent composition of uranium-235 has been increased through the process of isotope separation. Natural uranium is 99.284% 238U isotope, with 235U only constituting about 0.711% of its weight...

.

See also


  • North Korea and weapons of mass destruction
    North Korea and weapons of mass destruction
    North Korea has declared that it has nuclear weapons and is believed by many to have nuclear weapons. The CIA assesses that North Korea also has a substantial arsenal of chemical weapons...

  • Nuclear power in North Korea

External links