‘From an Total Safety Perspective, There Isn’t a Enormous Concern [About Flooding at Yongbyon]’


The Korean peninsula was struck by record-breaking precipitation, together with state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reporting a week that flooding had ruined 40,000 hectares (154 square kilometers ) of farmland, 16,680 houses, and 630 other buildings all around the nation.

Commercial satellite imagery of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, the nation’s main nuclear facility, captured the attention of analysts in 38 North, a North-Korea analysis site financed by the Washington-based Stimson Center.

38 North noted that although the five-megawatt reactor in Yongbyon does not seem to have been lately functioning, “harm to the piping and pumps inside the pump homes presents the largest vulnerability to the reactors.”

“In the event the reactors were working, for example, the inability to cool these would demand them to be closed down,” the report stated.

RFA’s Korean Service Thursday interviewed Olli Heinonen, former Deputy Director-General to get Safeguards in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also present distinguished fellow with the Stimson Center’s 38 North application.

He also discussed the possible harm that the flood could lead to to Yongbyon and the Pyongsan uranium mine, yet another flooded facility. The interview was edited for clarity and length.

An opinion of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center on the lender of the Kuryong River at Yongbyon, North Korea, July 22, 2020. From August 6, 2020 the region had become bombarded.
Airbus Defence & Space and 38 North/Pleiades through Reuters

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RFA: it’s been reported that the North Korean nuclear facility in Yongbyon was influenced by the recent flood. Can we have a significant disaster on our hands?

Heinonen: As you know, I’ve been many times to Yongbyon, and that I also have been there during flood, and really this flood is about as awful as I believe I watched when I was really there. I believe that the first major flood I found there, possibly it had been 1992, that long past.

Therefore I believe my initial response to such pictures, which also come in the business which I serve, the Stimson Center,… North Korea knows of the flood, they do not come as a surprise, and they’ve taken some countermeasures from the plan of those nuclear facilities to conquer any issues. This is the very first stage, and I will go back to it shortly.

The next thing we will need to keep within our mind is really these centers are practically not working today. So once you examine the satellite picture poll, the five-megawatt reactor does not function, the experimental light-water reactor is under construction, the processing plant is much away in the river, but it still requires water to be able to keep it.

same issue that the uranium enrichment component, they want some water although the real operation, we aren’t really certain how much it is working today. And there are a few additional installations which use radioactive substance. Not atomic material, however [they conduct] radioactive experiments such as scientific, medical and other functions.

I do not believe this flood has much of an impact on people, therefore from an general security perspective, there isn’t a enormous concern for now.

The following question: Has this flood caused harm to the gear there?

I do not think There’s any Massive harm for the following reasons:

Let us look now in the experimental light-water reactor along with the five-megawatt reactor. I believe they can go for some time with no much water in use, or obtained out of the lake, so that they could prevent the pumps… Along with this, such setups, when they function they have a sort of filtering system at the front part of the piping which requires the water. So it’s going to additionally slough away some of the dirt, so should they will need to temporarily take a while that I believe that they can manage it.

But surely under present conditions, you can’t go to long-term surgeries until the water level comes down, and before front of those water-taking areas are washed and return in complete purchase.

So that is my take on this, and I’ve seen them designing and engaging in a reactor that was constructed in Syria. And I had been at the point from the IAEA and we’ve really written some Syria reports regarding the water for this reactor…and it had been I believe, a rather normal industrial structure for the water to be obtained in the river, and also the way this system was created in this manner it can handle too flood.

We realize that the intake construction or the pump home in Yongbyon, especially for its reactor, is surrounded by water, however, that I do not feel that it leaves a massive harm on this since at least Syria we saw the electronics component was fairly well shielded.

I then see that the individuals haven’t looked in another water consumption areas. They’re all focused only on water consumption for its five-megawatt reactor along with also the experimental reactor.

across the opposite side of this river is a pump house which likely takes water into the river… and the situation there’s pretty much exactly the same as for the reactor, therefore there’s plenty of water around the pump house… so that is where we’re.

Therefore I do not feel there is any dramatic circumstance. They have to do some mending, but it is not so probable they are destroyed.

There is 1 thing that we also should remember. The building of the buildings, in North Korea, their criteria aren’t that complex as you and I’ve been used to.

For instance when it rains a lot, in certain centers, water may access into the basement due to the bad isolation from the cellar. So that is one more thing that’s likely happening in a few of those centers. We are simply not seeing it since satellite imagery won’t show it.

What sort of harm has that triggered? It is difficult to say. Most likely they simply have to pump away some water and wash the premises, the cellars, and the decreased levels of these buildings.

But I do not think that it will halt the performance of these facilities, because it did not do anything at the 1990s, so why can it do this now?

RFA: what’s the threat of flood in the Pyongsan uranium mine?

Heinonen: If you perform the uranium mining, then you use a great deal of water to wash out the ore, which in this situation is anthracite coal at Pyongsan. So you need to wash it, you need to dissolve it, then once you do so cleaning and this dissolution, you recuperate uranium, which can be fine, however the exact same time you leave a good deal of radioactive waste such as radium, thorium, and then either of these, they’re radioactive substances, so at the same point in timethey rust to cupping, which can be a gas.

Thus, when you’ve got these huge ponds in which the wastewater goes, we do not know how well they’re created and how they deal hen there’s a massive rain–if the rain only falls right into those ponds that are open, or if they float then that radioactive waste gets into the environment, groundwater, then finally either into the river, or even into the drinking water from these folks.

If this occurs, then it’s an effect.

Additionally, we do not understand how well these ponds are in fact made. In normal situations, actually they’re like enormous swimming pools. So they’re not such that there’s a lake or pond on a usual rice paddy or standard floor. You have to isolate this waste liquid in the remainder of the water.

Because we do not understand how they’ve done that, I believe that is why when we look at this heavy rain, that was in the Pyongsan region, that may be an issue of concern.

there’s a chance that water may overflow and reach the surroundings.

I am not so concerned about the grinding facility, the one which chooses the ore and divides uranium there, since they’re chemical procedures and they occur in vessels and piping and respective tanks, therefore it shouldn’t affect the operations of these.

However, the waste containment ponds are another story. When you have a look at the picture on the site, there are in fact two these ponds. One is close to the true minethere on the mountain, then there’s a pipeline which [connects with the] grinding facility, then the fluids, which can be waste with that grinding centre, they cross the river into a different pipe and visit a pond around.

Therefore those two ponds, one around the opposite side of the lake and one up there around the mountain, I believe, may have any risks if there’s such a heavy rain because we’ve observed in the previous few months.

Reported by Sangmin Lee to get RFA’s Korean Service.


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