North Korea 'resumes' work on N-reactor

North Korea 'resumes' work on N-reactor

Satellite image shows that Pyongyang has started nuke work after months of inactivity

North Korea has resumed construction of a nuclear reactor that can be used to expand the country’s nuclear weapons programme, a US-based institute said on Thursday, citing the latest satellite imagery of the building site.

In November, North Korea reported brisk progress in the building of a small light water reactor in its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang, its capital.

If completed and operational, the plant would give North Korea a new source of spent nuclear fuel from which plutonium, a fuel for nuclear weapons, can be extracted.

North Korea also unveiled a uranium enrichment plant in Yongbyon in November 2010, saying that it was enriching uranium for fuel for the reactors it planned to build to resolve its electricity shortages. But international nuclear experts believed that the North’s enrichment program was also intended to produce highly enriched uranium, another type of fuel for nuclear bombs.

Recent commercial satellite imagery, including photography taken on April 30, shows North Korea has resumed building work in Yongbyon after months of inactivity and that the country was close to completing the reactor containment building, according to an analysis posted on Thursday at 38 North, a website run by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

“Over all, it may take another one to two years before the new facility becomes operational,” the organisation said in a statement.

North Korea had already reprocessed spent fuel from its old graphite-moderated five-megawatt reactor in Yongbyon to extract plutonium and has test-detonated two nuclear devices. The five-megawatt reactor, built in 1986 and already decrepit, was partly dismantled in 2008 under a short-lived nuclear disarmament deal with Washington and remained unoperational, compelling the North to find a new way to produce bomb fuel.

When North Korea announced in 2009 that it would build light water reactors and start enriching uranium for their fuel, it was the beginning of what experts called a major transition in the North’s nuclear weapons program from relying solely on the production of plutonium to adding enriched uranium as a new source of bomb fuel to augment its limited plutonium stockpile. Unlike light water reactors, the North’s old graphite-moderated five-megawatt reactor did not require uranium to be enriched for fuel.

North Korea’s effort to put a satellite into orbit and demonstrate a potential for intercontinental ballistic missiles failed on April 13, when its rocket disintegrated shortly after its blastoff.

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