Google Earth

Satellite Images of North Korea’s Nuclear Facilities

North Korea’s nuclear program dates back to the construction of a  “research” reactor in the  1960’s.  The images on this post show three of North Korea’s four known plutonium reactors, its unfinished light-water reactors, its missile test site, and its nuclear test site.  First,  here are some overviews.  Click the thumbnails to see full-size images. 

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Here are two overviews of the main  operational  nuclear  facilities at Yongbyon: the  5-megawatt reactor, radiochemical laboratory, and  fuel  fabrication plant.

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A close-in views of the fuel fabrication plant …


… the radiochemical laboratory …

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… and the 5-megawatt reactor.  Steam is clearly visible, rising from the cooling tower.

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Other sites of interest at Yongbyon:  a large VIP guest house, perimeter security fence,  and air defense systems. 

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Shortly after President George W. Bush’s administration signed an agreement under which North Korea agreed to “disable” the 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon in exchange for aid, North Korea expert Richard Halloran reported that the reactor was crumbling and at the end of its useful life in any event.

The images below are of North Korea’s 50-MW plutonium reactor, also at Yongbyon.  In  2005, the Washington Post reported that the North Koreans had accelerated construction of this reactor to prepare it for completion within two years.  From this, and from what the photographs show, we can infer that this reactor is nearly complete.  Thus far, this reactor has been left untouched by disarmament agreements  by the  administrations of President Clinton and President Bush (43).

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North Korea is also building a 200-megawatt nuclear reactor, approximately 13 miles northwest of Yongbyon.  It has also been unaffected by the 1994 and 2007 disarmament agreements, although IAEA monitors have periodically been stationed there.

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Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, the United States,  Japan, and South Korea agreed to build North Korea two light-water reactors.  Although the Yongbyon reactors were not linked to North Korea’s electricity grid, North Korea was then insisting that the Yongbyon reactors were intended to generate electricity only.  The Clinton Administration hoped that light-water reactors (LWR’s) would supply more energy with less risk  that the reactors’ fuel or end products could be weaponized.  Here are satellite  photographs of those unfinished reactors: 

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The reactors were to be built along North Korea’s northeast coast, near the town of Sinpo, by a four-nation consortium known as the Korean Energy Development Organization (KEDO).  Here is what the KEDO site say in its introductory page today:

The Executive Board of KEDO decided on May 31, 2006 to terminate the LWR project. This decision was taken based on the continued and extended failure of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to perform the steps that were required in the KEDO-DPRK Supply Agreement for the provision of the LWR project.

The organization will continue to exist, as necessary to settle financial and legal obligations stemming from the termination of the LWR project, including, in particular, those related to the termination of the Turnkey Contract for the Supply of the LWR Project to the DPRK, signed between KEDO and the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) on December 15, 1999.

This website continues now to provide links to some key documents and other information related to KEDO’s original mandate.  []

Construction was suspended after revelations that North Korea may have been secretly pursuing a program to enrich uranium, using components obtained through the Pakistani A.Q. Khan network.  North Korea admitted  having such a  program in a meeting with U.S. diplomats in 2002, then later denied it.  In late 2007, North Korea tried to disprove the uranium allegations by submitting a sample of smelted-down aluminum tubing.  Unfortunately for North Korea, the aluminum tested positive for traces of enriched uranium.

In July of 2006, North Korea unsuccessfully tested a Taepodong-II missile at this place, Musudan-ri, on North Korea’s northeastern coast. 

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Compare the shadow of the launch gantry in the fifth photograph to this diagram and this image.

In October of 2006, North Korea is believed to have conducted a partially successful nuclear test here, also  in the vicinity of Musudan-ri.  (In 2004, the New York Times reported that North Korea may actually have tested its first nuclear weapon in Pakistan in 1998.)

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(Compare to Global Security)

Musudan-ri is also adjacent to one of North Korea’s large concentration camps, Camp 16.  You can see more  satellite images  and video clips of  survivor testimonies of North Korea’s concentration camps at this page.

More Google Earth images of North Korean sites of interest at this page.


  1. I would give it a 50/50 to 60% chance we’ll see another nuke test within a year. There are several reasons NK does such things, but there are a couple of bigger ones that lead me to believe they will do it in the near term: the biggest of which is that the last test was that the last test was a failure or only partially successful.

    Strategic ambiguity can and has worked for the North. We’ve been guessing whether they really had nukes or not since the early 1990s. But, having a failed or only partially successful test kind of puts the North in a no-man’s-land. It harms the ambiguity factor but does not do what a successful test would: put the world on notice.

    Pyongyang has probably started to worry that the failed test has caused war-hawks in the US to start thinking an attack on the North is even more of good idea because we now know they don’t have an effective bomb design.

    The need to address that problem will only increase much as conflict with the North increases, and it is sure to increase over the next 12 months – no matter what.

    Agreed Framework 2.0 is going to continue to take heat with pressure on both the US and NK to shit or get off the pot and admit it is now a worthless piece of paper.

    All indications, and they are very strong at that, is the President Lee in South Korea is going to shake things up. Even if he maintains the significant amounts of material aid to the North, which he will, he has shown a boldness so early on things like axing the anti Unification Ministry that I underestimated what impact his victory would have on SK-NK relations.

    As Agreed Framework 2.0 gets mortar attacked throughout this year, and Lee goes about the process of reshaping what is really just an internal South Korean political landscape, the North will not be able to sit back and be satisfied with the material aid it will continue to get no matter what. North Korea will view the axing of the Unification Ministry and other moves by Lee as a direct attack on Pyongyang itself, and it will feel the need to respond. Ditto for pressure on Agreed Framework 2.0.

    If NK is also really hurting as much as Jane’s and others think, pressure to act boldly will also increase as that pain increases. A logical state would consider changing its ways if it feared collapse of a dysfunctional system, but that’s not Pyongyang. They react to internal and external pressure with bold, ultimately self-defeating measures —– like the last ICBM and nuke tests.

    And finally, even things like Beijing hosting the Olympics will irritate the North and that irritation will be felt more or less strongly in direct proportion to others pressures they feel – particularly internal economic and social turmoil. Expect the North to ratchet up the effort to prevent information from leaking into the North from China, but the paranoid regime will start worrying more and more that the Olympics will possibly inspire North Koreans to understand how screwed up their own lives are compared to even their communist cousins to the North.

    This is not going to be a good year for the North, no matter what.

    Bush lacks status in his final year to give North Korea a lot more goodies that it has been hoping to get. This isn’t even considering the likely more worse case scenerios in which Bush cuts some aid by buckling to pressure on admitting the failure of AF 2.0.

    And Lee is going to make things worse for the North or at least seem worse from Pyongyang’s point of view.

    The North will feel the need to respond with bold measures, and a 2nd nuke test would accomplish a lot for them, from their point of view: scare the world, demonstrate it has a working nuclear bomb, and scare North Koreans while making the elites there feel more secure.


  2. usinkorea said,

    January 27, 2008 @ 10:24 am

    I would give it a 50/50 to 60% chance we’ll see another nuke test within a year.


    Could you please predict a company to invest in that will make me rich?



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