Soldiers dispatched to Pyongsan uranium mine

Satellite view of Pyongsan mine
Satellite picture of the Pyongsan uranium mine released by 38th North on August 27, 2019. / Image: 38th North

North Korea has recently dispatched soldiers who finished their mandatory service periods to a uranium mine in Pyongsan, North Hwanghae Province, Daily NK has learned. This news comes after the UN Security Council Committee tasked with monitoring sanctionson North Korea released a report on September 5 stating that uranium is still being mined at the site. 

“After soldiers finish their mandatory service they normally return home, but these soldiers appear to be have been stationed at the site against their will,” a North Hwanghae Province-based source told Daily NK on Monday. 

“Uranium is still being mined at the site in Pyongsan and uranium refinement facilities are still operational,” the source continued, adding that the “mining of uranium for the country’s nuclear program is likely to continue given that the authorities have recently stationed a large number of soldiers there.” 

North Korea continues to suggest internationally that it plans to pursue the denuclearization process, but there is evidence to the contrary inside the country. That officials have openly stationed soldiers at the mine suggests that the regime is indicating to its domestic audience that it does not intend to give up its nuclear program. 

The stationing of these new troops at the site comes after First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son-hui announced that North Korea is open to working-level negotiations with the US on denuclearization. This suggests that North Korea has continued to mine and refine uranium in Pyongsan even as it seeks dialogue on denuclearization with the US. 

The Pyongsan uranium mine is North Korea’s largest and includes a uranium enrichment factory. The mine is one of the major nuclear facilities in the country mentioned by US President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the Hanoi summit in February. 

The families of the soldiers forcibly stationed at the mine are reportedly unhappy with the turn of events. “Those families who have heard about their sons being dispatched to the mine are more or less in mourning for them,” the source said. 

“People who work for an extended period of time at the Pyongsan mine see their hair turn grey and their teeth fall out, even in their 30s,” another source in North Hwanghae Province said. “The rumors are that many people who have worked there suffer a great deal of health issues before dying at an early age.” 

It’s not clear, however, what kind of work the soldiers are doing at the site, the first source told Daily NK.

The mine has also been the source of leaks of waste water and other waste products recently, raising pollution concerns for nearby rivers and the ocean. 

South Korea’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) reported on September 2 that comparative tests of radioactive contamination, including uranium, were conducted at six points near Kanghwa Island, five areas along the West Sea coast, and one location on the Han River. None of the tests detected any unusual findings. 

The lack of any contamination from the Pyongsan mine may be due to an absence of nuclear reactors and reprocessing facilities at the site, which is only home to the mine and a uranium refinement facility. 

“While Pyongsan may not be a major nuclear site compared to Yongbyon [nuclear facility], there’s evidence that the mine is contributing to the country’s nuclear program,” another Daily NK source said. “Moving forward, the site will need to be included in any process aimed at denuclearizing the country.”

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