Satellite Images Indicate North Korea Activated Second Uranium Centrifuge Hall

North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex
North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex / AP
August 11, 2015

North Korea has apparently activated a second uranium centrifuge hall at its Yongbyon fuel fabrication plant, a move that could double its ability to produce weapons-grade uranium.

According to an analysis of satellite images by IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review, North Korea appears to be operating a uranium centrifuge hall at its main nuclear facility. Centrifuges are crucial to enriching uranium that can be used in nuclear energy plants and atomic bombs.

"Lots of people are very concerned about North Korea’s nuclear program," IHS Jane's analyst Karl Dewey told NBC News of the development.

If the new centrifuge hall is, in fact, operational, Dewey said it "could potentially double North Korea’s ability to produce weapons-grade uranium."

Satellite images captured in late 2014 and early 2015 show snow melting around a building belonging to the fuel fabrication plant, which indicates heat is emanating from within. The building also shares similarities with an already operational centrifuge hall that North Korea insists is dedicated to energy production.

Dewey said the existence of a second centrifuge "further entrenches North Korea's behavior" in nuclear development. He also said that the centrifuge would make "rollback harder" if North Korea were ever to ponder a nuclear deal--as Iran has--with Western powers.

IHS Jane's estimated that the second centrifuge hall began testing in January and likely became operational in February.

The North Korean military claimed in May that it has the capability of miniaturizing nuclear weapons, which is a crucial step toward building nuclear missiles.  However, the U.S. National Security Council expressed skepticism at the purported feat.