Amid increasing signs that North Korea is expanding its uranium mining, North Korean authorities recently introduced new regulations on the export of uranium concentrate in Pyongsan, North Hwanghae Province. Now only a few key institutions can export the material. 

A high-ranking source in North Korea told Daily NK on Monday that access and export rights to uranium mines became restricted to the Munitions Industry Department and organizations affiliated with the Central Committee after the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea earlier this year.

In the past, powerful agencies such as the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Social Security could export uranium, but this is now impossible.

The Ministry of State Security (MSS), which controls access to uranium mines and the areas surrounding them, is no longer allowed to procure the material, either. Instead, the agency is only permitted to involve itself in the screening and approval process of people seeking to enter mine areas. 

North Korean authorities appear to be streamlining export routes to avoid surveillance by the international community before expanding production of the material. 

Daily NK’s source explained that the recent changes are also aimed at reducing the power of the military and the MSS so that uranium mining activities are under the sole control of the Munitions Industry Department and top party institutions. 

The source also told Daily NK that the MSS informed party officials that a trading company affiliated with the Ministry of Defense recently violated the new restrictions. Company officials reportedly attempted to access the uranium mines even though the authorities had revoked their uranium export rights. 

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

MSS officials intercepted a vehicle carrying twelve personnel from the Ministry of Defense-affiliated trading company at the entrance of Pyongsan earlier this month.

The MSS officials claimed that their travel passes, access approval numbers, and entry/exit passes were counterfeit and forced them to get out of the vehicle.

An investigation revealed that the twelve employees had attempted to continue exporting uranium extracted from the Pyongsan mines by using their existing sales channels.

In fact, the MSS reportedly found out in advance that the trading company was attempting to export uranium despite having no authority to do so. To confirm their suspicions, the MSS approved the company’s request to access Pyongsan without raising questions.

After receiving the MSS’s report, the party’s Organization and Guidance Department ordered the arrest of anyone who attempted to access the uranium mines without approval.

“In the past, institutions with the capability [to export uranium] could sell uranium if they just gave foreign currency to the Party as a kind of tribute, but now they can’t even bring stone powder out of Pyongsan,” the source said. “The MSS’s crackdown of the Ministry of Defense was aimed at showing what could happen [if people break the rules].” 

In an article published in April, Daily NK reported on North Korean plans to construct a political prison camp managed by the Ministry of Social Security to serve as a source of labor for the uranium mining and smelting operations in Pyongsan. Just over one month later, the camp’s construction is reportedly already complete.

The source said prison guards and prison management officials have been put in place, but the transfer of prisoners to Pyongsan is taking longer than anticipated.

In the meantime, North Korea is reportedly smuggling uranium concentrate and uranium ore produced in Pyongsan to countries such as China, Iran, Syria, Qatar, and Egypt.

*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.