The nuclear-weaponized North Korea appears to have restarted its plutonium-producing reprocessing reactor in a “deeply troubling” development, the United Nations atomic agency said, a possible sign Pyongyang is expanding its nuclear program. prohibited weapons.
The development of the 5 megawatt reactor at Yongbyon – North Korea’s main nuclear complex – comes with a deadlock in nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered to dismantle part of the Yongbyon compound at a second summit with then-US President Donald Trump, but no other venues, in exchange for relief from sanctions, and his offer was rejected.
North Korea is the subject of several rounds of international sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which saw rapid progress under Kim.
“Since the beginning of July, there have been indications, in particular of cooling water discharges, compatible with the operation of the reactor”, indicated the International Atomic Energy Agency in its annual report.
The Yongbyon reactor appeared to have been inactive from December 2018 until then, the report dated Friday added.
IAEA inspectors were expelled from North Korea in 2009, and the agency is monitoring them from outside.
The possible operation of the reactor follows a recent indication that Pyongyang is also using a nearby radiochemical laboratory to separate plutonium from spent fuel previously removed from the reactor.
The signs of the reactor and laboratory operations were “deeply troubling,” the IAEA said, adding that the activities were a “clear violation” of UN resolutions.
About 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Pyongyang, Yongbyon is home to the country’s first nuclear reactor and is the only known source of plutonium for North Korea’s weapons program.
Yongbyon would not be North Korea’s only uranium enrichment facility, and its closure would not in itself spell the end of the country’s atomic program.
North Korea suspended its nuclear and missile tests in a diplomatic process in 2018, but said it was giving up its self-proclaimed moratorium in January 2020.
It subsequently carried out a series of short-range missile launches but has not conducted a nuclear test since 2017.
© 2021 AFP