Yongbyon Reactor Back in Spotlight

Lee Sang Yong  |  2013-09-12 15:19
North Korea has restarted its 5MW nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, according to new analysis from the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS (Johns Hopkins University). It is believed that if the research facility were re-activated at maximum capacity, it would be able to produce approximately 6kg of weaponizable plutonium per year.

USKI revealed the news on the website 38North on the 11th. The analysis is based on satellite imagery taken on August 31st, analyzed by Jeffrey Lewis and Nick Hansen.

According to the report, the new satellite imagery shows, White steam rising from a building near the reactor hall that houses the gas-graphite reactors steam turbines and electric generators. It goes on to explain, The white coloration and volume are consistent with steam being vented because the electrical generating system is about to come online, indicating that the reactor is in or nearing operation.

Analysis of the status of the Yongbyon reactor has become somewhat more complex since the destruction of the cooling tower in mid-2008. In the past, steam emissions from the cooling tower were one among many indicators that the reactor was operating. This is no longer possible now that North Korea uses the river and pump-house for secondary cooling, the report notes.

It is also impossible to tell from the evidence available whether the smoke in question represents test operation of the reactor, or a full restart. In any case, some experts presume that the restart is only designed to draw the United States to the negotiating table, given that Pyongyangs resources are thought to be focused primarily on uranium enrichment rather than plutonium production.

Choi Jin Wook, a researcher with the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, commented to Daily NK earlier today, For the manufacture of nuclear weapons at Yongbyon, they will have to run it for at least six months. Also, it is worn out so the problem of safety is still there. This won't be seen as threatening by the United States.

But, Choi added, if the research reactor really is being restarted, It shows that North Korea, quite unlike the conciliatory appearance they are showing to the outside, does not intend to abandon its nuclear capabilities.
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