IAEA: North Korea appears to have resumed nuclear reactor operations
North Korea has resumed its main nuclear reactor, which is used to make weapons fuel, according to the UN Atomic Energy Agency
August 30, 2021, 5:23 a.m.
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SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea appears to have resumed operations of its main nuclear reactor, which is used to manufacture weapons fuel, the UN Atomic Energy Agency said as the North openly threatens to revoke its nuclear arsenal amid long-dormant nuclear diplomacy with the United States to expand states.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s annual report covers a 5 megawatt reactor at the most important nuclear complex in the north in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. In addition to highly enriched uranium, the reactor also produces plutonium, one of the two key components in the construction of nuclear weapons.
“Since the beginning of July 2021 there have been indications, including the introduction of cooling water that is compatible with the operation of the reactor,” said the IAEA report on Friday.
The report said there was evidence of the operation of Yongbyon’s radiochemical laboratory from mid-February to early July this year. This operating time is in line with previous North Korea announced reprocessing campaigns of irradiated fuel from the reactor. The laboratory is a facility in which plutonium is obtained from reactors by reprocessing spent fuel rods.
“(North Korea’s) nuclear activity remains a matter of serious concern. In addition, the new information on the operation of the 5 megawatt reactor and radiochemical laboratory is deeply worrying, ”the IAEA said.
The IAEA has not had access to Yongbyon or anywhere else in North Korea since the country fired IAEA inspectors in 2009. The agency said it is using satellite imagery and open source information to monitor developments in the North Korean nuclear program.
The Yongbyon complex also produces highly enriched uranium, the other major nuclear fuel. The IAEA report states: “For a period of time there were indications that the reported centrifuge enrichment facility was not in operation”, although regular vehicle movements were observed.
The complex, which North Korea calls “the heart” of its nuclear program and research, has been the focus of international concern for decades. It is not exactly clear how much weapons grade plutonium or highly enriched uranium was produced in Yongbyon and where North Korea stores it.
North Korea is believed to operate several other desirable uranium enrichment plants. According to a South Korean estimate from 2018, North Korea could also have produced 20-60 nuclear weapons by now.
In recent months, North Korea has warned to expand its nuclear program if the United States does not withdraw its “hostile” policy towards the North. Earlier this month, Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, said North Korea would step up “absolute deterrence” to deal with mounting US threats.
South Korean Unification Department spokesman Lee Jong-joo said Monday that South Korea, along with the United States, is closely monitoring North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities. However, she declined to comment on whether Seoul sees any signs that the north is reactivating its nuclear facilities.
Associate press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.