According to a report from the global nuclear watchdog published Sunday, North Korea has restarted a nuclear reactor rumored to be capable of creating weapons-grade plutonium.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said it had first spotted activity at the 5-megawatt Yongbyon plant north of the capital, Pyongyang, in late 2018 and had seen new signs of activity in recent weeks.
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“Since early July 2021, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation,” according to the report, which is issued annually and was released Sunday.
The report also stated that “the country’s nuclear activity continues to be a cause for serious concern.”
Kim Jong Un’s Nuclear Goal
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un has always been open about his nuclear ambitions saying in January that he would seek “completely new nuclear capabilities aimed at attaining the goal of modernization of the nuclear force.”
He disclosed goals for the North’s nuclear weapons program, including miniaturization of warheads, development of tactical weapons, and a “super-large hydrogen bomb” at the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).
Last year, he spoke of developing a “new strategic weapon.”
According to the report, there have been five North Korean nuclear tests since 2006, most recently in 2017, when the U.N. Security Council demanded that the country immediately abandon its nuclear program in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”
Inspectors never really had access to North Korea since 2009. Inspectors can only rely on commercial satellite imagery to make their assessments, however, the new IAEA report displayed Kim’s regime has not followed the Security Council’s instruction.
At the 2019 summit in Vietnam with previous US President Donald Trump, Kim discussed a deal to dismantle Yongbyon in exchange for a reprieve from various international sanctions over nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
During that time, Trump said he rejected the offer because Yongbyon was only one part of North Korea’s nuclear program.
President Joe Biden’s administration has expressed it has contacted North Korea to offer talks, but Pyongyang said it would not negotiate without a change in policy by the U.S.
“There has been no agreement governing these facilities for a long time now,” Joshua Pollack, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told Reuters.
According to Pollack, it is a safe bet that North Korea intends any newly separated plutonium for weapons. He added that in a speech this year Kim gave a long list of advanced weapons under development, including more nuclear bombs.
“North Korea’s appetite for warheads is not yet sated, it seems.”