North Korea has resumed building a nuclear reactor that can be used to expand the country’s nuclear weapons program, a US-based institute said yesterday, citing the latest satellite imagery of the site.
The satellite images showed North Korea had resumed building in Yongbyon, its main nuclear complex, after months of inactivity and was close to completing the reactor containment building, according to an analysis posted yesterday on 38 North, a Web site run by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
“Overall, it may take another one to two years before the new facility becomes operational,” the organization said in a statement.
Last November, North Korea reported brisk progress in the building of a small light water reactor in in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang. If completed, the plant would give North Korea a new source of spent nuclear fuel from which plutonium could 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 to ease its electricity shortages. However, international nuclear experts believed that the enrichment program was also intended to produce highly enriched uranium for bomb fuel.
North Korea’s attempt to put a satellite into orbit and demonstrate a potential for intercontinental ballistic missiles failed April 13, when its rocket disintegrated shortly after blastoff.
Analysts have since warned that North Korea may conduct another nuclear test or ramp up its uranium enrichment to try to gain leverage in talks with Washington.
The UN Security Council strongly condemned the exercise as breaching a ban on the testing of ballistic missile technology, and tightened sanctions. After the UN censured previous rocket launches in 2006 and 2009, Pyongyang responded with nuclear tests.
The situation has prompted the US and Japan to hold high-level talks next week about North Korea, Seoul’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.
Lim Sung-nam, South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, his Japanese counterpart Shinsuke Sugiyama and the US special envoy on North Korea Glyn Davies will meet in Seoul on Monday, ministry spokesman Cho Byung-je said.
“Through the high-level talks, the three countries will discuss developments on the Korean peninsula, North Korea and its nuclear issue following the April 13 long-range missile launch by the North,” Cho said.
The envoys are expected to assess the situation “and discuss the possibility of additional provocations from North Korea,” Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified foreign ministry official as saying.
North Korea has been intensifying threats against South Korea after what it thought was insulting behavior during celebrations in Pyongyang to mark the centenary of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-sung.