North Korea nuclear production may have restarted, images show

Plutonium enrichment plant closed in 2007 as part of aid deal

Beijing

New satellite imagery of activity at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility has raised fears that the pariah state may have restarted plutonium production at the plant.

The US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) said a satellite image taken on 31 August, made public today, appears to show white vapours rising from a building near a hall that houses the plutonium production reactor’s steam turbines and electric generators.

“New commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility indicates that Pyongyang is probably restarting its five megawatt gas-graphite plutonium production reactor,” SAIS said in a report posted on its website 38 North.

The Yongbyon nuclear plant is at the heart of North Korea’s controversial nuclear arms programme. Located about 100 km (60 miles) north of the capital Pyongyang, it facilitates the production of nuclear fuel, an antiquated reactor burns it and plutonium is separated from spent fuel.

The plant is also believed to have various clandestine facilities which focus on weapons designs and uranium enrichment. According to SAIS, the reactor is capable of producing six kilograms of plutonium a year, which can be used by Pyongyang to slowly increase the size of its nuclear weapons stockpile.

The facility was closed down in 2007 as part of a disarmament-for-aid deal, and the cooling tower was destroyed, although not before it produced enough bomb-grade plutonium to make probably between four and 10 nuclear weapons, analysts estimate. The disarmament deal subsequently stalled, partly because the US did not believe Pyongyang was fully disclosing all of its nuclear facilities. As tensions on the Korean Peninsula heightened after Pyongyang staged its third nuclear test earlier this year, the regime of Kim Jong Un vowed to revive the reactor as part of its pursuit of nuclear power status.


SAIS said that since the North Koreans said they would restart the reactor, work has progressed rapidly over the spring and summer to bring the facility back into operation.

The reactor generates electricity by using the heat from nuclear reaction to create steam that spins the turbines, so the white steam being vented indicates that the reactor is in or nearing operation, according to the report.

Talks involving both Koreas, China, Russia and Japan, aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear arms programmes in exchange for aid haven’t been held since late 2008. The US special envoy for North Korea, Glyn Davies, earlier this week ruled out talks resuming unless North Korea showed real signs of reversing its nuclear programmes. He declined to comment on the new reports, saying they were unconfirmed.

“If it turns out these reports are true... it would be a very serious matter... It would violate a series of UN Security Council resolutions,” Mr Davies told reporters in Tokyo. The United Nations nuclear watchdog said the situation remained unclear.

“As we don’t have inspectors there, we don’t have anything for sure,” Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters in Vienna.

Suggestions that Yongbyon may have restarted come amid signs of improving relations between the two Koreas. Last month, the North agreed to restart its industrial complex jointly run with South Korea and to resume reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. At the time of going to press, South Korea had not responded to the institute’s findings.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent