Chinese firm offering graphite materials for sale in North Korea
Trade in graphite with DPRK could risk sanctions designation from U.S. Treasury Department
September 20: This article has been updated to include a statement by both of the mentioned firms.
A Chinese firm has been marketing potentially dual-use graphite materials to buyers in North Korea, recent photos seen by NK Pro shows.
The items – which included graphite electrodes, rods, blocks, plates, tubes and molds – were being marketed at a recent trade fair for use in “ultra-high power electric arc furnaces,” among other applications.
Graphite can be used in high-temperature furnaces and in smelting processes, with the tip of a graphite electrode capable of reaching temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees Celsius – half the temperature of the sun’s surface – when used to recycle scrap from old cars to produce new steel.
“The electricity needed for this process is enough to power a town with a population of 100,000,” said a 2017-dated Reuters factbox analysis of the usage of graphite electrodes in steel production, an amount likely well above latent North Korean capacities.
But graphite is also a material which can also have application in other areas of concern, one expert said.
“Generally, graphite is regarded as a highly controlled dual-use material for the possibility that it can be used in nuclear reactors,” said Ankit Panda, a contributing analyst to NK Pro.
“Graphite can be used as a neutron moderator in reactors like the one at Yongbyon,” he said, referencing North Korea’s primary nuclear science research center.
While the items being marketed by the Chinese exhibitor did not indicate if “nuclear-grade graphite products are also on offer,” Panda said that their marketing material “underscores that they are producing and manipulating graphite into a range of applications.”
The exhibitor promoting the graphite products didn’t have any physical items on display, as is increasingly common in DPRK trade fairs, but displayed a banner marked with the name He Bei Lintan New Material Science & Technology Co., Ltd.
A company by the name of Hebei Qinyuan New Material Technology Co., Ltd. – a slight variation to the exhibitor’s North Korea banner – offers a similar selection of graphite items from its Hadan City, Heibei Province headquarters.
“Our company name is Hebei Qinyuan New Material Technology Co., Ltd, and we has never attened any exhibitions in all of world so far, even in our own country- China.,” a spokesperson for the company said. “So for the photo you sent to me it is 100% not my company.”
Notably, one of the posters mounted by the exhibitor promoted a UHP power graphite electrode with the name and contact details of the LTCL Carbon company, which is headquartered in Linzhou, a city in the north of Henan province.
“Our products are used for electric arc furnace and ladle furnace for steel melt-shop,” a spokesperson for the company said. “It is no relate to nuclear weapons”
“If you are familiar with steel industry in North Korea, you may know there is a graphite electrodes manufacturer named “xing nan” carbon.”
“We paticipated in (the trade fair) to looking for steel industries customer,” the spokesperson continued. “However, it seems we shall look for more opportunities in “qing jin” city or other which has steel plant.”
A United States Executive Order has since March, 2016 listed graphite as a sanctioned item.
The U.S. Department of Treasury issued a “North Korea Sanctions & Enforcement Actions Advisory” in July 2018 which said that its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) could “impose sanctions on any person determined to…have sold, supplied, transferred or purchased…graphite…where any revenue or goods received may benefit the government of North Korea.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: LTCL Carbon company
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