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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 38, June 1999

US Verdict on North Korean Facility

'Report on the US Visit to the Site at Kumchang-ni, Democratic People's Republic of Korea,' Statement by James Rubin, Office of the Spokesman, US State Department, 25 June 1999

"On 18-24 May, 1999, a US Department of State team traveled to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea with the purpose of visiting the underground facility at Kumchang-ni. The visit took place on an exceptional basis at the invitation of the DPRK. The US team consisted of fourteen members, including relevant technical experts. After initial consultations with the DPRK authorities, the team began its visit to the site at Kumchang-ni on 20 May. The visit was completed the evening of 22 May. After reviewing data gathered from the visit with the DPRK authorities, the US delegation departed the DPRK on 24 May.

Throughout the visit, the DPRK provided the US delegation with good cooperation. The US delegation was permitted to conduct all activities previously agreed to under the 16 March, 1999 US-DPRK agreement which permitted the US access to the site at Kumchang-ni. Those activities included measuring the dimensions of all underground areas at the main complex, videotaping those areas, and photographing agreed above-ground facilities supporting the site at Kumchang-ni.

Of particular importance, the DPRK allowed the delegation to conduct the visit 'in the manner the US deemed necessary,' as agreed in March between the two sides, to help remove suspicions about the site. After an initial orientation tour of the underground areas provided by the local official in charge, the US delegation spent the next two days underground in order to ensure that it covered all the underground areas. The US delegation criss-crossed those areas a number of times at a pace and according to a plan determined by the delegation, in consultation with the DPRK. The US delegation saw no evidence of DPRK efforts to conceal any portion of the facility.

At the site, the US delegation viewed a large underground tunnel complex. Excavation of the complex, as currently configured, was almost complete but a great deal of additional finishing work remained to be done with almost all of the tunnels still bare rock. Moreover, there was no indication that equipment was ever installed at this location. In addition, the delegation visited above-ground installations - dams under construction, the electric substation, as well as various utility buildings and construction support facilities.

Based on the evidence gathered by the US delegation and a subsequent review of that evidence by US technical experts, we have reached the following conclusions about the underground site at Kumchang-ni.

  • The site at Kumchang-ni does not contain a plutonium production reactor or reprocessing plant, either completed or under construction.
  • Given the current size and configuration of the underground area, the site is unsuitable for the installation of a plutonium production reactor, especially a graphite-moderated reactor of the type North Korea has built at Yongbyon.
  • The site is also not well designed for a reprocessing plant. Nevertheless, since the site is a large underground area, it could support such a facility in the future with substantial modifications.
  • At this point in time the US cannot rule out the possibility that the site was intended for other nuclear-related uses although it does not appear to be currently configured to support any large industrial nuclear functions.
Based on the data gathered by the US delegation and the subsequent technical review, the US has concluded that, at present, the underground site at Kumchang-ni does not violate the 1994 US-DPRK Agreed Framework. New construction of graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities in the DPRK would be a violation of the Framework.

The US expressed its appreciation to the DPRK for its cooperation on this matter. As agreed between the US and DPRK in the 16 March document, the next US visit to the site at Kumchang-ni will take place in May 2000 and will include examining its feasibility for commercial use."

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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