Amid confirmation that the North Korean authorities have tightened access to Pyongsan, North Hwanghae Province – the site of the Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant – officials have begun construction on a new political prison camp in the area, Daily NK has learned. The authorities appear to have approved the camp’s construction to mobilize manpower to mine and refine uranium.

A high-level source told Daily NK on Friday that efforts to build the new political prison camp in the Pyongsan area are already underway. The authorities reportedly mobilized low-ranking soldiers attached to the Ministry of Social Security and people from nearby areas to serve in labor brigades for the construction project. 

The North Korean authorities reportedly ordered that construction brigades complete the camp’s construction by the end of the month and begin placing inmates there from May 1.

Daily NK has not yet confirmed the name of the new Pyongsan prison camp. It appears, however, that the North Korean authorities plan to transfer inmates confined at other prison camps to the Pyongsan prison camp in addition to imprisoning newly-arrested convicts.

The authorities plan to send the prisoners to uranium mines and processing facilities to produce uranium concentrate immediately after they enter the camp, based on the source’s account. 

According to the source, the Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant needs more manpower to expand uranium-related production, so the authorities decided to mobilize prisoners to supplement the labor shortage.

A Google Map image of the uranium enrichment facility located in Pyongsan. / Image: Beyond Parallel, CSIS

The new camp in Pyongsan will fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Social Security, unlike other political prison camps managed by the Ministry of State Security.

Once a convict is sent to a Ministry of State Security concentration camp, they stand almost no chance of being released. However, it is possible for an inmate at a Ministry of Social Security-operated camp to be released if they are judged to be a “model prisoner” during their incarceration period.

For this reason, prisoners at Ministry of Social Security-operated camps reportedly follow orders from camp authorities more closely than those at Ministry of State Security-operated prison camps.

North Korean authorities classify the refining of uranium as a top-secret industry, and ordinary North Koreans tend to avoid this kind of work because it is considered dangerous. These factors make it challenging to recruit people to work in uranium refinement facilities. 

Armed guards from the Ministry of Social Security are reportedly standing guard around the vicinity of the camp’s construction site and keeping it under maximum security.

Recently, Daily NK reported (article in Korean) that the authorities strengthened control over access into Pyongsan, which was already a restricted access zone, and designated it as an “independent restricted access zone” last month. 

There are also rumors of North Korea smuggling concentrated uranium produced in Pyongsan to Iran, Syria, Qatar, and Egypt, which lend weight to claims that North Korean authorities are expanding the production of concentrated uranium.

In fact, Daily NK’s source claimed that North Korea is smuggling uranium ore in addition to concentrated uranium.

“As far as I know, China requested uranium ore, not concentrated uranium,” the source explained. “It’s not just that China doesn’t trust North Korea’s refinement capabilities. This way, they can also get uranium ore for a lower price.”

The source further reported that “regardless of the [uranium’s] form, the fact is that uranium smuggling is increasing,” adding, “That’s why more manpower is needed [for the uranium mining process].”

*Translated by S & J

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.