‘High activity’ detected at major North Korean nuclear site – US think tank
North Korea may be about to launch a new nuclear reactor amid heightened tensions in the region and Pyongyang’s push to ramp up its arsenal of atomic weapons, a US-based think tank reported on Saturday, citing data gathered by commercial satellites.
According to 38 North, recent imagery “indicates a high level of activity” around Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, located 100km from the nation’s capital.
The think tank noted that the construction of an additional support building by the Experimental Light Water Reactor was underway, with water discharges having been detected, which may indicate that “the reactor is nearing completion” and “a transition to operational status.” It also pointed to similar activities around the Uranium Enrichment Plant, located at the same site.
The experts also stated that the 5 MWe reactor, located nearby and active since July 2021, continues to operate and is probably nearing the moment that its fuel should be discharged and replaced. However, satellite imagery appears to show that construction of the reactor’s spent fuel storage is underway, which may postpone the discharge, it added.
“Together, these developments seem to reflect [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un’s recent directive to increase the country’s fissile material production to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal,” 38 North stated.
Earlier this week, Kim visited a facility producing nuclear weapons, while warning that Pyongyang is ready to deploy its nukes “anytime and anywhere.” He also stated that North Korea must significantly expand its atomic arsenal “to defend the eternal security of the state and the regional peace and stability.”
Last month, North Korean state media reported that Pyongyang had tested a new “underwater nuclear strategic weapon” capable of triggering a “radioactive tsunami,” amid what it described as “provocative… drills and confrontational attitude of the US imperialists and South Korean puppet fighters.”
In recent weeks, tensions have soared on the Korean Peninsula, with Washington and Seoul embarking on a flurry of military exercises which Pyongyang regards as preparation for an attack. In response, North Korea has carried out a number of weapons tests, which include intercontinental ballistic missile launches.