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Satellite imagery shows drainage ditch being built near Pyongsan uranium mill

Satellite imagery suggests that a drainage ditch is being built at a settling basin at the Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant. High-resolution images recently taken by a Maxar satellite show construction on a ditch designed to drain wastewater from a full settling basin at the Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant.

The drainage ditch runs into a small stream, which suggests that uranium sediment in the basin may be dumped into the Ryesong River.

The Ryesong River flows south and eventually opens onto the estuary of the Han River, passing through Ganghwa Bay and Gyeonggi Bay into the Yellow Sea.

The Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant refines and smelts uranium to produce a powdered concentrate called yellowcake that is a raw ingredient in fissile materials.

The plant is a major strategic facility for North Korea and one of the five facilities that former U.S. President Donald Trump specifically asked Kim Jong Un to close in their summit in Hanoi in 2019. This unexpected demand caught Kim off guard, and when he flatly rejected the demand, Trump walked away from the negotiations, bringing the summit to an abrupt end.

The construction of the drainage ditch was first reported by Jacob Bogle, an American civilian expert in satellite images, on his website AccessDPRK on January 5, 2023. The outlines of the construction were fully visible in the Maxar satellite photography. If the drainage ditch is used to dump toxic materials into the Ryesong River, it could potentially pollute the Han River estuary and the Yellow Sea.

Construction on drainage ditch at Pyongsan uranium mill
A drainage ditch is under construction that will link the settling basin for waste at the Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant to a small stream. Waste flowing through the ditch and stream would reach the Ryesong River in just 2.2 kilometers. Imagery=WorldView-3 (ⓒ2024 Maxar, U.S.G. Plus)

The uranium waste that remains after the production of yellowcake at the Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant (in the city of Pyongsan, North Hwanghae Province) passes through a pipeline across the Ryesong River into a reservoir, called a settling basin, where it sinks to the bottom. But the waste has been accumulating so long that the basin has apparently reached capacity.

The construction of an underground tunnel and drainage ditch to the southeast of the settling basin was recently captured on satellite imagery.

According to an image taken by a Maxar WorldView-3 satellite (with a resolution of 30 centimeters) on May 29, construction is underway on a drainage ditch (a section of which runs underground) that runs for 280 meters. The ditch is connected to a small stream (with a length of 1,920 meters), so the uranium waste in the settling basin would only have to flow for 2.2 kilometers to reach the Ryesong River. This opens up the possibility that toxic waste will enter the river system.

Tunnel and ditch link the settling basin to the stream
A tunnel is being dug under a hill next to the settling basin. The tunnel and drainage ditch connect to a small stream, and there are traces of some kind of liquid having flowed through the ditch. Imagery=WorldView-3 (ⓒ2024 Maxar, U.S.G. Plus)

An underground tunnel is being dug under a small hill immediately to the southeast of the settling basin. The tunnel runs for about 120 meters under the hill, and a ditch dug on the other side of the hill extends to the small stream. The stream is an intermittent watercourse that only flows after heavy rain. Water dumped into the stream would reach the Ryesong River in 1.9 kilometers.

According to high-resolution Maxar satellite images, construction on the drainage ditch appears to have begun in March 2022, in the early spring. A satellite image taken on May 29 shows traces of wetness in the drainage ditch, presumably as the result of a trial discharge from the settling basin. It is thought that construction will be completed before long.

Unexplained illnesses among workers at Pyongsan uranium mine

According to a Jan. 21 article by Daily NK, soldiers and laborers with the General Bureau of Atomic Energy who are working at the Pyongsan uranium mine have been dying of unexplained illnesses each year, and many of them have been ailing for no apparent reason. Given their long exposure to radiation, people living near the uranium mine have a high incidence of such diseases as cancer and leukemia, and children are sometimes born with deformities.

Media coverage and announcement by Ministry of Unification

Several years ago, international media such as Radio Free Asia and 38 North raised the possibility that the Han River estuary and the Yellow Sea could be exposed to radiation if wastewater were dumped into the Ryesong River. With the issue being taken seriously both in Korea and elsewhere, South Korea’s unification ministry had water samples from the Han River and the Yellow Sea collected for testing and published the results of the tests.

The unification ministry concluded on Oct. 21, 2019, that there was nothing to worry about. “There was nothing unusual in the samples from the Han River and the Yellow Sea, and there are not any highly radioactive pollutants at the Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant,” the ministry announced.

While some nuclear experts questioned that announcement, I trusted the South Korean government’s announcement at the time. But even assuming that everything was fine back then, I think the recent construction of a drainage ditch from the settling basin and the possibility of toxic waste being dumped into the Ryesong River demand our close attention and interest and also require us to monitor the status of construction there.

Please send any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Read in Korean

June 27, 2024 at 06:30AM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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