NORTH Korea’s main nuclear facility is under threat from recent flooding, a US think tank has warned.
The Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center is around 50 miles from capital Pyongyang and is home to numerous facilities thought to form part of the country’s nuclear weapons programme.
The site sits on the banks of the Kuryong River, which has been badly affected by one of the heaviest spells of rain in the region’s recent history.
The rains have brought floods and landslides that have caused damage and deaths in both North and South Korea.
Analysts at 38 North, a website that monitors the country, said that satellite images taken between August 6 and 11 show that the Yongbyon center’s cooling systems appeared to be vulnerable to extreme weather events.
They added that floodwaters may already have damaged pump houses at the site, Reuters reported.
The center is thought to house nuclear reactors, fuel re-processing plants, and uranium enrichment facilities.
The five-megawatt reactor – believed to be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium – does not appear to have been operating for some time, but flooding when it is operating could cause critical damage.
“Damage to the pumps and piping within the pump houses presents the biggest vulnerability to the reactors,” the report said.
“If the reactors were operating, for instance, the inability to cool them would require them to be shut down.”
The warnings come just nine years after flooding from a tsunami caused damage to coolant pumps and subsequently a meltdown at the Fukushima plant in Japan.
The failure of a coolant system was also the main cause of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.
Images from August 6 showed severe flooding downstream of the Yongbyon facility, but it did not appear to reach the site’s Uranium Enrichment Plant.
By August 11, the waters had partially receded.
No damage to the site has been reported on North Korea’s state media.
In response to the report, South Korea’s Ministry of Defence said it is always monitoring developments related to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and maintaining close cooperation with the U.S. government.
At a summit in Vietnam in February 2019, Kim offered to close and dismantle Yongbyon in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
The US rejected the offer because Yongbyon is only one of a number of sites that make up North Korea’s nuclear programme.
The talks ended without any agreement on disarmament.