According to a US monitoring website, North Korea appears to be continuing the operation of a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor at its mainstay Yongbyon complex, citing the release of steam and water seen in recent satellite imagery.
On Wednesday (local time), 38 North reported that recent commercial satellite imagery of the complex north of Pyongyang revealed more evidence of activity at the 5-megawatt reactor, which can produce up to 6 kilogrammes of plutonium a year – a fissile material used in nuclear weapons.
“Steam is emanating from the reactor’s generator hall, indicating that at least one of the generators is running,” the website said. “Additionally, water continues to be discharged from the auxiliary pipe into the channel leading to the Kuryong river.”
According to the website, the new activity at the reactor is “notable,” as the production of fissile materials is likely required to achieve North Korean leader Kim Jong-goal un’s of strengthening nuclear capabilities, which was announced during the country’s eighth party congress in January.
Construction of a new wing south of the experimental light water reactor appears to be continuing, but there are no signs of operations beginning at the facility, according to the report.
The suspicion is consistent with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) monitoring results, which show that the North appears to have continued operations at the Yongbyon nuclear reactor since it began operations in August.
According to Yonhap news agency, the UN nuclear watchdog also pointed out nuclear activities at the country’s uranium enrichment and mining facility elsewhere.
“There are ongoing indications of activities at the Kangson complex and the Pyongsan Mine and Concentration Plant,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said during a board of governors meeting on Wednesday.
The Kangson complex is North Korea’s second uranium-enrichment plant, following the well-known Yongbyon facility, and the Pyongsan facility is a major mill that converts uranium ore into yellowcake, the first step toward enriching uranium.
“We are closely monitoring related reports,” a unification ministry official said, declining to comment further.
Concerns are growing over signs of Pyongyang’s nuclear activities, especially since South Korea and the United States are in talks to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War in order to restart stalled denuclearization talks with the reclusive state.
Nuclear talks between the US and North Korea have been stalled since the two countries’ 2019 Hanoi summit ended without a deal.