North Korea may be trying to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons at its main atomic complex, according to an analysis of recent satellite images from the rogue state.
The US website 38 North — which specializes in North Korea studies — reported that images from Feb. 25 and March 2 revealed smoke emanating from a coal-fired steam plant at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
Coming weeks after leader Kim Jong Un vowed to expand his nuclear arsenal, this suggests “preparations for spent fuel reprocessing could be underway to extract plutonium needed for North Korea’s nuclear weapon,” the website said Wednesday.
But it also noted that “this could also mean simply the facility is being prepped to handle radioactive waste.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency wrote in September that the Yongbyon complex, north of the capital city of Pyongyang, has likely been shut down since 2018.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said earlier this week that some of the Hermit Kingdom’s nuclear facilities continued to operate, citing the operation of the steam plant that serves the radiochemical laboratory at Yongbyon where plutonium is extracted by reprocessing spent fuel rods removed from reactors.
“The DPRK’s nuclear activities remain a cause for serious concern. The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear program is a clear violation of relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable,” Grossi told the IAEA’s board of governors, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Plutonium is one of the two key ingredients used to build nuclear weapons along with highly enriched uranium. The Yongbyon complex has facilities to produce both ingredients.
It’s unclear how much weapons-grade plutonium or highly enriched uranium has been produced at the site and where North Korea stores it.
US-led diplomatic efforts aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program in return for economic and political benefits have been deadlocked since a summit between then-President Trump and Kim collapsed in early 2019.
Trump rejected Kim’s calls for sanctions relief in return for dismantling the nuclear complex in what was seen as a limited denuclearization step because the rogue regime had already built nuclear weapons.
In January, Kim vowed to enlarge the country’s nuclear arsenal and disclosed an array of high-tech weapons systems targeting the US.
With Post Wires