Sun, Jul 16, 2017 - Page 4 News List

N Korea plutonium stock underrated, monitor says

AFP, SEOUL

A satellite image of the radiochemical laboratory at the Yongbyon nuclear plant in North Korea released on Friday by Airbus Defense & Space and 38 North shows suspected nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities.

Photo: Reuters

New images of North Korea’s main nuclear facility show that the isolated regime has apparently produced more plutonium for its weapons program than previously thought, a US monitor said, as tensions soar over Pyongyang’s ambitions.

The respected 38 North Web site, a monitoring project linked to Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, on Friday said that thermal imagery of the Yongbyon nuclear complex appeared to show that Pyongyang had reprocessed spent fuel rods at least twice between September last year and last month.

“The Radiochemical Laboratory operated intermittently and there have apparently been at least two unreported reprocessing campaigns to produce an undetermined amount of plutonium that can further increase North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile,” it said.

North Korea deactivated the Yongbyon reactor in 2007 under an aid-for-disarmament accord, but began renovating it after Pyongyang’s third nuclear test in 2013.

Increased thermal activity was also noted at Yongbyon’s uranium enrichment facility, but it was unclear whether this indicated a push to increase supplies, possibly for weapons, or if it was part of maintenance operations, the Web site said.

The researchers also said that analysis of thermal patterns from a probable isotope/tritium production facility at the site suggested that the plant was likely not producing tritium.

Tritium is a key component used for making sophisticated thermonuclear weapons with far greater yields than those made only of plutonium and uranium.

North Korea has conducted five underground nuclear tests since 2006, and last week carried out its first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman on Friday said “the resounding success” of the test demonstrated Pyongyang’s ability to “annihilate the US by a single blow to the very heart of its mainland in case it fails to act with discretion.”

The US is inviting its “ultimate doom” by pushing for ramped up UN sanctions against the North, the spokesman was quoted as saying by Pyongyang’s state media.

North Korea, which says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion, is subject to multiple sets of UN sanctions over its weapons programs.

The latest launch triggered a new round of international condemnation and anger.

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