North Korea nuclear reactor ‘nearing operation’
US group says satellite image shows steam from Yongbyon complex
US special representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies is surrounded by the media as he speaks after meetings with Japanese officials. Photograph: Issei Kato/Reuters
Satellite imagery suggests North Korea has restarted a research reactor capable of producing plutonium for weapons at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, a US research institute and a US official said yesterday.
US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said a satellite image from August 31st shows white steam rising from a building near the hall that houses the plutonium production reactor’s steam turbines and electric generators.
“The white coloration and volume are consistent with steam being vented because the electrical generating system is about to come online, indicating that the reactor is in or nearing operation,” said the Washington-based institute.
The reactor can produce 6 kg of plutonium a year, the institute added.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, said it did not yet have a “clear understanding” of the situation, while the US special envoy for North Korea said if the restart were confirmed, it would be a very serious development.
“These reports, I believe, are unconfirmed. What I can’t do is comment on intelligence matters ... If it turns out these reports are true ... it would be a very serious matter,” special representative for North Korea policy Glyn Davies told reporters in Tokyo. “It would violate a series of UN Security Council resolutions.”
A US official who spoke on condition of anonymity said he believed the North Koreans had restarted the reactor, saying that the amount of steam suggested that it was being tested.
The official said he did not think the North may have done so to force major powers to resume nuclear talks with it in the hopes of extracting concessions, but rather to demonstrate that it will not abandon its nuclear programs.
“It’s more straightforward than that,” said the official, saying that North Korea “wants to create a fait accompli and be accepted as a (nuclear) power and nuclear weapons state.”
“They’ve no interest in bargaining this away,” he added, saying that the only way to counter the North’s action would be to “raise the cost to them of taking this path, and increasing multilateral pressure, with China an active participant.”
A spokesman for the US State Department’s bureau of east Asian and Pacific affairs declined to respond to the report, citing a policy of not commenting on intelligence matters, but said Pyongyang’s “nuclear program remains a matter of serious concern.”
The spokesman repeated Washington’s longstanding call for North Korea to comply with a 2005 aid-for-disarmament agreement signed by North Korea, its neighbours and the United States. Under that pact, Pyongyang would have dismantled its nuclear program in exchange for economic and energy aid.