Dual Use in the DPRK


Staff member
New research shows that, using an uncommon but proven method of producing yellowcake uranium, North Korea could be producing more nuclear weapons than previously assessed.

Several states have succeeded in extracting “yellowcake” uranium from phosphoric acid as part of the phosphate fertilizer production process. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has both the means and motivation to undertake such work, thus significantly altering existing open-source assessments of how much yellowcake uranium North Korea could produce annually, which in turn affects estimates of how many nuclear warheads DPRK can make.

There is ample rationale for the DPRK to pursue this method of uranium extraction. The dual usage of existing infrastructure would both conceal the activity and make it more difficult for international audiences to positively identify and condemn. The DPRK certainly needs fertilizer, and the information on how to extract uranium from its production is readily available. Lastly, this method of yellowcake production embodies the policy of byungjin—parallel nuclear-weapon development and economic expansion—a hallmark of Kim Jong Un’s strategy. Given these factors, the rationale for the pursuit of this method is clear. The evidence is even more so.