The International Atomic Energy Agency said signs, such as the release of cooling water, seen in early July indicated the plant was active. No such evidence had been observed since December 2018, the IAEA said.
“The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear program is a flagrant violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable,” adds the report, referring to North Korea by its official acronym, the Democratic People’s Republic. of Korea (DPRK).
The IAEA said there were also signs of activity in the nearby radiochemical laboratory from mid-February to early July. The plant is used to make nuclear fuel and the radiochemistry laboratory is used to reprocess the plant’s fuel rods with plutonium which can, theoretically, be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
The IAEA and other independent analysts have previously reported on the activity seen at the radiochemical laboratory and believed it may be part of a campaign to turn nuclear fuel into plutonium for nuclear weapons.
IAEA director general Rafael Grossi said in June that the duration of the activity in the laboratory was in line “with the time required for a reprocessing campaign”.
However, Grossi said it was not possible to confirm that a reprocessing was taking place. IAEA inspectors were expelled from North Korea in 2009, and the agency was forced to remotely monitor the country’s nuclear facilities.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said it is continuously monitoring North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic activity in close cooperation with the United States.
The fact that a reprocessing campaign is underway probably indicates that North Korea had already produced nuclear fuel for reprocessing. Whether this fuel is a few years old or has been produced recently, and secretly, remains unclear.
Jeffrey Lewis, weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said that while the IAEA report is expected, it is an important reminder of the challenges facing US President Joe Biden in this regard. which concerns a North Korea equipped with nuclear weapons.
“On some level, none of this is new, but it is noteworthy that the IAEA has stated that normal business is continuing in Yongbyon,” Lewis said. “One of the problems we’ve had with North Korea is because it’s been business as usual for several years, people have kind of got used to the idea (of a North Korea with nuclear weapon) and kind of forgot This stuff happened, and we only check every now and then. ”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly offered to dismantle the Yongbyon compound in exchange for sanctions relief during negotiations with former US President Donald Trump in Hanoi in 2019. However, those talks failed in part because ‘neither side was prepared to move. Trump’s team wanted either a ballistic missile or other nuclear sites included in the deal, and Kim refused to agree to a Yongbyon swap for partial sanctions relief, the former security adviser wrote. National President, John Bolton, in his memoir.
Relations between the two longtime adversaries have been freezing ever since, and Washington and Pyongyang have focused on containing the threat of Covid-19 since the pandemic swept the world in early 2020. North Korea’s borders were sealed to keep the virus at bay, despite the spillover effects on trade with China, an economic lifeline for the impoverished country. Kim’s diet is now said to be in the grip of a food crisis.
President Biden’s administration has made several attempts to contact North Korea by email to initiate talks with Washington, a senior South Korean official with direct knowledge of the situation told CNN.
North Korea acknowledged receipt of the emails, the official said, but did not feel compelled to respond due to what is considered a lack of a detailed agenda or any serious indication that the United States is ready to move the conversation forward on what had been agreed. at Trump and Kim’s first summit in Singapore in June 2018.