North Korea ramps up activity at controversial reactor complex
Seoul North Korea has increased activities at its controversial Yongbyon reactor site in a bid to obtain more weapons-grade material for atomic bombs, experts say. On the one hand, the five-megawatt Yongbyon reactor is still in operation, according to the Stimson Center’s North Korean news site “38 North”, citing satellite images. On the other hand, there are indications that construction work on an experimental light water reactor is about to be completed. New construction work had also begun around the uranium enrichment plant.
These developments may “reflect the recent directive from (ruler) Kim Jong Un to increase the country’s production of fissile materials and expand its nuclear arsenal,” it said.
Currently, tensions on the Korean Peninsula continue to rise. North Korea, largely isolated because of its nuclear weapons program, has repeatedly tested nuclear-capable missiles since the beginning of this year, despite UN bans. The United States and South Korea have resumed full-scale joint military exercises since last year.
The older reactor in Yongbyon has been back in operation since July 2021, according to 38 North. With its power, the reactor is small, but it can supply plutonium for the production of atomic bombs. According to the report, the release of water around the light water reactor was observed in early March. That could have something to do with the testing of the cooling system. While this is not the first time in recent years, this time it could indicate that the “reactor is nearing completion,” it said.
The intention behind the construction work in the area of the uranium enrichment plant could be to expand the capacities for uranium conversion, it was said. During this process, the enrichment gas uranium hexafluoride (UF6) is produced. In highly enriched form, uranium can also be used to build atomic bombs.
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