This handout satellite image taken on Feb. 21 and released to AFP by Pleiades, Cnes 2019, Distribution Airbus DS on Feb. 28 shows the 5 MWe reactor at North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center showing no signs of activity. (AFP-Yonhap)
North Korea's long suspected uranium enrichment facility in Kangson may instead be dedicated to producing related components, a former official of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday.
Olli Heinonen, former IAEA deputy director-general for safeguards, noted the facility appears to be linked to the North's uranium program, but not in a way that had been suspected.
"The available evidence suggests that Kangson is not a uranium enrichment plant, although it is likely still tied to North Korea's uranium enrichment program, just in a different role," Heinonen said in an op-ed piece published by 38 North, a website run by Washington-based think tank Stimson Center.
"Its characteristics are consistent with a large-scale machine tool workshop suitable for the production and testing of centrifuge components," he added.
The Kangson facility has been suspected of being North Korea's second uranium-enrichment plant after its well-known facility in Yongbyon.
Such suspicions surfaced in 2018, but have never been confirmed.
Noting high-level security arrangements around the Kangson complex, including a 1-kilometer-long perimeter wall, Heinonen said the facility appears to hold a "valuable asset."
"However, unlike buildings at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, Kangson does not have a security defense-in-depth. Its security arrangements are more comparable with the features of military-industrial complexes in North Korea," he wrote.
In addition, the facility "appears to be missing air conditioning units, which are essential to maintaining an appropriate operating environment for centrifuges at production-scale facilities," he added, citing recent satellite imagery of the site.
North Korea offered to shut down its Yongbyon facility when its leader, Kim Jong-un, met US President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February 2019.
However, the Hanoi summit, the second for Trump and Kim, ended without a deal as the US demanded the North give up all five nuclear facilities that it said it had information on.
The US has not made public its list of North Korean nuclear facilities but Kangson has been thought to be one of them.
The first Trump-Kim summit was held in Singapore in June 2018. (Yonhap)