2010: Modern Centrifuge Facility Revealed

Hinge Points: An Inside Look at North Korea’s Nuclear Program


People seated at a lunch table and looking intently at one man speaking.

Dates: November 9 – 13, 2010 | Yongbyon visit: November 12, 2010

The visit in November 2010 turned out to be the last of Hecker’s trips to DPRK, his seventh trip beginning in 2004 and fourth visit to Yongbyon. The Stanford team included Siegfried Hecker, John Lewis, and Robert Carlin.

The most notable part and the big surprise of that trip was the unveiling by DPRK hosts to the Stanford team of a modern, small industrial-scale centrifuge plant built unnoticed by the world at the Yongbyon site. Stanford team sought to untangle the motivations and intents of the North Koreans hosts in making the turn towards the construction of their own Light Water Reactor and declaring the uranium enrichment program. The dialogue of the two sides was detailed in:

Notes of meeting with Ambassador Ri Gun (prior to the visit to Yongbyon)

Notes of meeting with Ri Yong Ho (following the Yongbyon visit)

Slides with aerial view and 3-D model of the Cascade Hall in Yongbyon

In the Trip Report prepared upon the return to the US, Hecker presented his observations and analysis and made the following conclusion:

“The only hope appears to be engagement. The United States and its partners should respond to the latest nuclear developments so as to encourage Pyongyang to finally pursue nuclear electricity in lieu of the bomb.”

Hecker devoted much energy to bring the new information and understandings gained through the November 2010 visit to the administration and the public. With Robert Carlin, he presented their findings and recommendations to Secretary Clinton on November 23. In the end of 2010 and through 2011, Hecker made some twenty appearances before academic, expert, and general public audiences to educate and inform about the trajectory of the North Korean nuclear program and policy choices available to the United States based on the insights from the 2010 visit. Several publications by Hecker in 2010-2011 explored the same issues in greater analytical and technical detail.

Briefing to Secretary Hillary Clinton. Washington, DC, Nov. 23, 2010

Return Trip to North Korea. Presentation in the Korea Economic Institute. Washington, DC, Nov.23, 2010. More presentations from 2011.

What I Found in North Korea. Pyongyang’s Plutonium Is No Longer the Only Problem. Foreign Affairs, December 9, 2010.

2010: The visit used to showcase the relaunch of the DPRK nuclear program

The Stanford delegation visited Yongbyon, but the hosts allowed photos only in front of the Guest House. The rest of the visit program provided perspectives in the everyday life of the country. In 2010, despite the sanctions imposed on DPRK after the first (2006) and second (2009) nuclear tests, the economic and social conditions appeared dynamic: in Pyongyang, there was more traffic, including a big increase in the number of taxis, cell phones were in use everywhere, and the cell reception extended beyond the cities into mountainous areas. Classrooms were equipped with modern computers. At night, central Pyongyang displayed fully lighted streets with well-lit government buildings. The completed glass and steel exterior of the Ryugyong Hotel tower glittered in the daylight.

Americans and Koreans seated at a lunch table and looking intently at one man speaking.

Meeting with Ambassador Ri Gun and other Foreign Ministry officials. Ri Gun announces, “tomorrow you will have very big news, Dr. Hecker.”

A facade of a modern four story building with a cap over the entryway and stairs leading to it. Window AC units look to be installed in every room.

Yongbyon Nuclear Center in November 2010. The only photographs allowed were at the Guest House built in anticipation of greater DPRK-U.S. collaboration that never came to fruition.

Two men in jackets posing for photo in front of entryway to a building.

Hecker and Yongbyon Safeguards Section Head Li Yong Ho. November 12, 2010.

People seated at a dinner table looking at the camera for a photo

Meeting with North Korea’s Foreign Ministry officials. First Vice Minister Ri Yong Ho (front left) and Ms. Choe Son Hui of American Department.

An American and a Korean in suit and tie posing for photo in a room with artificial lighting

First Vice Minister Ri Yong Ho, an experienced DPRK diplomat, had taken over from Kim Gye Gwan and hosted the Stanford delegation in Pyongyang in November 2010.

Two Americans and two Koreans in suits and tie posing for a photo in a carpeted room with soft furniture

Carlin (left) and Lewis at Minju Joson, North Korea’s state newspaper.

Four North Korean military officers in formal attire posing for photo with three American guests.

Carlin (left), Lewis and Hecker meeting with Major General Pak (center) and officers of Korean People’s Army

Group of people standing on an interior terrace of a big building with a covered courtyard

Lewis and Carlin with Korean hosts in Kim Il Sung University.

Classroom with five or more long rows of desk each with a desktop station. Students in neat jackets and red neck ties looking down to notes.

Visit to Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang

Large room with blue desks partitioned in the middle with desktop stations. Students sitting at some desks looking into monitors.

Newly outfitted e-library in Kim Il Sung University.

Taken from the back, students at their desks each with a monitor. The monitors display a question in large letters “When and where was Mozart born?”

Visit to the School of Foreign Languages in which the students spoke excellent American English. They were given a question that Hecker was able to answer easily having grown up in Austria, where every child was taught when and where Mozart was born.

Taken from the back, students looking at monitors with question: “How many brothers and sisters did he have?”

School of Foreign Languages – more questions about Mozart.

Four men in front of a building

After visit to School of Foreign Languages. Principal Ryo (left), Lewis, Hecker, and Carlin.

A woman in concert dress playing the concert piano forte

Ms. Jong Kyong Hui, young pianist playing Chopin at the dinner meeting celebrating 92nd anniversary of Polish independence. Nov. 2010

Pyramid shaped building in front of an empty three lane street.

The completed exterior glass facade of the 105-story Ryugyong Hotel.

Large building at night with many lights on.

Great People’s Study House. During the 2010 visit, much more of Pyongyang was lit up at night than in previous visits.

Worker in a factory working with thread

At Songyu textile factory

People working at small tables with sewing machines

At Songyu textile factory. Nov. 2010

Large agricultural field under a blue sky

Daedonggang Combined Fruit Farm, an orchard with over one million apple trees imported from Italy. The farm was on the schedule following the visit to Yongbyon.

Cell towers on a hill with the sun and a lens flare

By 2010, cell towers were estimated to cover 75 percent of the territory.

Young professional woman using a cell phone on a sidewalk with trees in the background

In 2010 we saw cell phones in use on the streets of Pyongyang for the first time. Nov. 2010.

Man using a cell phone in front of buildings on a cold sunny day.

Cell phones becoming part of everyday life. Pyongyang, Nov. 2010

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