North Korea is sitting on a stockpile of minerals worth trillions

North Korea is notorious for its totalitarian regime and human rights violations. Fewer people may realize the secretive country is also sitting on trillions in untapped wealth.

Embedded deep beneath the country's mountainous zones are some 200 varieties of minerals, including gold, iron, copper, zinc, magnesite, limestone, tungsten, and graphite, Quartz reports.

Some of these stockpiles are among the largest in the world, and North Korea, a tiny and cash-strapped nation, frequently uses them to bring in additional revenue — no matter the laws against doing so.

The total value of these minerals lies somewhere between $6 trillion and $10 trillion.

But the country is too poor to create the infrastructure needed to export the minerals — at least in large enough quantities to make a dent in its overall wealth. Still reliant on China, South Korea, and Russia for its financial and energy needs, North Korea has only made small deals with neighboring countries.

25 PHOTOS
North Korea's obsession with huge, intricate buildings
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North Korea's obsession with huge, intricate buildings

Entering the capital city of Pyongyang, visitors pass through the Arch of Reunification. The two women holding a conjoined North and South Korea symbolize supreme leader Kim Il Sung's vision for the two countries.

(Photo by Thomas Imo/Photothek via Getty Images)

Immediately, visitors are struck by the Workers' Party Monument. The outer belt reads, "Long live the Workers' Party of Korea, the organizer and guide of all victories of the Korean people!"

(Photo by Mark Edward Harris/Getty Images)

Downtown Pyongyang's skyline is punctuated by the 105-story Ryugyong Hotel, currently the tallest abandoned building in the world. It hasn't had any work done on it since 1992.

(Photo via REUTERS/Bobby Yip)

On the other side of the city, the 558-feet-tall Juche Tower looms above the Taedong River.

(Photo by Tim Johnson/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)

Some of North Korea's most impressive (and intimidating) architecture lives in the city center, such as the sprawling Manyongdae Children's Palace. It features two "arms" meant to imitate a mother's embrace.

(Photo by NK News/Getty Images)

North Korea doesn't have enough of its own electricity, so at night the entire country goes pitch black. What little remains goes toward illuminating a picture of the country's founder, Kim Il-Sung.

(Photo via REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

These buildings wouldn't be possible without the thousands of laborers who are forced to work long hours to build them.

(Photo via REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

The conditions are often poor, if not downright treacherous.

(Photo via REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

Much of the country's architecture is meant to honor North Korea's leaders, Kim Il-Sung, who led between 1972 and 1994, and Kim Jong Il, who followed Sung until his own death in 2011.

(Photo via REUTERS/KCNA)

The two men are proudly memorialized all around Pyongyang, most obviously at the People's Grand Assembly Hall.

(Photo via REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

Nearby is the Fatherland Liberation War Museum, which celebrates Korea's victory over the imperialist American forces during the Korean War.

(Photo by Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images)

One building in central Pyongyang reads, "The great comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il will be with us forever."

(Photo via REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

Disregarding the blatant propaganda, there are many aspects of North Korean architecture that are genuinely impressive. The metro station is among the most ornate in the world.

(Photo via REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, North Korea is also home to the largest sports arena in the world, May Day Stadium.

(Photo via REUTERS/KCNA)

Filled to capacity, it's capable of holding 150,000 people. Most often, it's used for the annual Mass Games, which pay tribute to the country's history.

(Photo credit should read Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

Amid the bleakness of everyday life, people also manage to find time to have fun at the Munsu Water Park.

(Photo via REUTERS/KCNA)

Science also plays a big role in North Korea. The Sci-Tech Complex, for example, was built in the shape of an atom and opened in early 2015.

(Photo via REUTERS/KCNA)

The country's leader, Kim Jong Un, has said he hopes the center will help "advance the establishment of a rich and powerful fatherland through the locomotive of science and technology."

(Photo via REUTERS/KCNA)

The structure joins the Mirae Scientists Street, which North Korea wants to use as its hub for becoming a global force in innovation.

(Photo via REUTERS/KCNA)

Some apartment buildings sport solar panels.

(Photo via REUTERS/Staff)

Many of the buildings stand out for their bold color palettes and industrial feel.

(Photo via REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

But others, like the Wonsan Baby Home and Orphanage, opt instead for bright pastels.

(Photo via REUTERS/KCNA)

Completed in June of 2015, the home is spread across several floors. Its blues and yellows stand in stark relief to the concrete that dominates so much of North Korea's landscape.

(Photo via REUTERS/KCNA)

Whatever bright spots there may be, from far away the skyline clearly reveals North Korea's obsession with power and might.

(Photo credit ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)

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Lloyd Vasey, founder of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, noted recently that North Korea's mining production has fallen by roughly 30% since the 1990s.

"There is a shortage of mining equipment," Vasey wrote, "and North Korea is unable to purchase new equipment due to its dire economic situation, the energy shortage, and the age and generally poor condition of the power grid."

In 2014, Russia mapped out the construction of a rail linewithin North Korean borders. Though it ultimately fell through, the plan was to entice North Korea with workable infrastructure in exchange for use of its mineral stockpile.

North Korea has repeatedly tried to capitalize on its mineral abundance despite United Nations sanctions, according to Quartz. In August 2016, Egyptian officials seized more than 2,300 tons of iron ore from a North Korean cargo ship headed to the Suez Canal.

The large quantity of iron along with 30,000 accompanying rocket-propelled grenades marked the largest ammunition seizure in the history of sanctions against North Korea, according to a UN report published in February. The capture "showed the country's use of concealment techniques, as well as an emerging nexus between entities trading in arms and mineral," the report said.

In that regard, North Korea continues to face a catch-22 with its mineral stockpile. The country is too poor to use the deposits itself, but too volatile in its leadership to gain the trust of international bodies that may permit the minerals' export.

The deposits will continue to sit underground, unused and untapped, until surrounding countries figure out a way to make workable partnerships.

24 PHOTOS
Take a look inside North Korean daily life
See Gallery
Take a look inside North Korean daily life

General view of the capital with the Golf club near the river Taedong ,August 10,2005,in Pyongyang ,North Korea.

(Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the first party committee meeting in Pyongyang, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) December 25, 2016.

(KCNA KCNA / Reuters)

A general view of downtown street on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea and the population is about 2,500,000.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

North Korean children practise table tennis against the wall in a primary school on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea and the population is about 2,500,000.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

The Monument to the Party Founding is seen on April 3, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea and the population is about 2,500,000.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

Cyclists ride along the banks of the Taedong River in front of the Grand People's Study House opposite the Tower of the Juche Idea. The 100,000 square metre building can house 30 million volumes and accommodate over 12,000 peeople daily; it contains 600 rooms.

(Photo by Alain Nogues/Alain Nogues/Corbis via Getty Images)

North korean pioneers going to pay respect to the dear leaders at mansudae art studio, pyongyang, North Korea on September 8, 2012 in Pyongyang, North Korea.

(Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us via Getty Images)

People commute on the bus near April 25 House of Culture, the venue of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) congress in Pyongyang, North Korea May 6, 2016.

(REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

Commuters queue for buses on October 30, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea.

(Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

A man looks across Yalu River towards North Korea as he stands next to the bridge that connects China's Dandong, Liaoning province and North Korea's Sinuiju, September 10, 2016.

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo)

A soldier walks under portraits of North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung (L) and former leader Kim Jong-il at Pyongyang's main square October 11, 2015. Isolated North Korea marked the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers' Party on Saturday with a massive military parade overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, who said his country was ready to fight any war waged by the United States.

(REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

O Yang Ran and her husband Kim Chol Nam pose during a photo session at Pyongyang Folk Park, October 11, 2015. Isolated North Korea marked the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers' Party on Saturday with a massive military parade overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, who said his country was ready to fight any war waged by the United States.

(REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

A boy dressed as solider wait for the bus with others in central Pyongyang, October 11, 2015. Isolated North Korea marked the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers' Party on Saturday with a massive military parade overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, who said his country was ready to fight any war waged by the United States.

(REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

A Chinese man washes his mop on February 14, 2012 in Dandong, China. Dandong lies on the border between China and North Korea and is the largest border city in China.

(Photo by Hong Wu/Getty Images)

A man rides a bicycle in a park on April 3, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea and the population is about 2,500,000.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

Two North Korean boys make a fun on the street on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea and the population is about 2,500,000.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

Commuters move by escalator at Puhung Subway station situated more than 100M below the surface, it is also an atomic shelter, on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea and the population is about 2,500,000.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

North Korean children play football in a primary school on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea and the population is about 2,500,000.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

North Korean children perform in a primary school on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea and the population is about 2,500,000.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

North Korean children perform in a primary school on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Pyongyang is the capital city of North Korea and the population is about 2,500,000.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

The Immortal Statue of Kim Il Sung monument is seen on August 12, 2009 in Pyongyang, North Korea.

(Photo by NK News/Getty Images)

Portraits of President Kim Il Sung (L) and his son Kim Jong Il, current Secretary General of the Korean Workers Party and Chief General of the army, in the international conference room for Korea's reunification.

(Photo by Alain Nogues/Corbis via Getty Images)

This photo taken on January 7, 2017 and released on January 9, 2017 by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows a joint conference of officials of the party, state, economic and armed forces organs to discuss ways for carrying through the tasks set forth by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in his New Year address in Pyongyang.

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

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