Pyongyang has moved beyond laboratory-scale work and is now capable of building a "at the very least, a pilot-scale" plant of centrifuges to enrich uranium, said the report based partly on information about North Korea's equipment purchases from other nations.
The centrifuge program "is an avenue for North Korea to increase the number and sophistication of its nuclear weapons and for it to proliferate to others who seek to build their own centrifuge programs," said authors David Albright and Paul Brannan. "As a result, the priority is finding ways to either stop the program or to delay its progress through a combination of negotiations and sanctions."
The report is just the latest warning about Pyongyang's broader nuclear program.
The institute earlier this week said that satellite images from Sept. 29 show new construction in the area around North Korea's nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, where the reclusive regime produced plutonium. And Kim Tae-hyo, the South Korean president's deputy national security adviser, warned in comments this week that the threat posed by the North's nuclear program has reached an "extremely dangerous level."
North Korea frequently buys items for its uranium enrichment program in China or uses China as a transshipment point, said Friday's report.
"There is no evidence that the Chinese government is secretly approving or willfully ignoring exports to North Korea's centrifuge program in an effort to strengthen North Korea's nuclear weapons program," the report said. "Nonetheless, China is not applying enough resources to detect and stop North Korea's illicit nuclear trade."