US intelligence agencies believe North Korea may have several uranium enrichment facilities to advance its nuclear weapons program and may have received outside assistance, the US’ spy chief said on Thursday.
In November, North Korea showed US visitors a facility at Yongbyon that it said held 2,000 centrifuges confirming US suspicions the North has a second way of making fissile material in addition to its plutonium-based program.
US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in written testimony to the US House Intelligence Committee there is a “clear prospect” that the North has built other uranium enrichment-related facilities in its territory.
That would deepen concern about the extent of the North’s nuclear program, which Clapper said posed a “serious threat” to security in East Asia. He said the country has already conducted two nuclear tests and tests of a ballistic missile that could reach portions of the US.
The US has said since 2002 that the North has a uranium-based program, which Pyongyang denied for years.
Clapper said the scale of the facility at Yongbyon and the progress made in construction showed North Korea had likely been pursuing enrichment “for an extended period of time.” He said that to make so much progress within the 20 months claimed by the North would not be possible without previously conducting extensive research, testing and assembly, or without receiving “outside assistance.”
Clapper did not elaborate on where that assistance would have come from, but he could be alluding to former Pakistani chief nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, who ran a rogue trafficking network until 2003. Clapper identified North Korea itself as a known proliferator that had exported ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria.