Analysts looking at satellite imagery of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor in North Korea are certain the reactor is nearing operational levels based on the color and volume of steam coming from it.
38 North, based at Johns Hopkins School of International Studies, published the information on its website.
The five megawatt reactor is able to produce spent fuel rods that can be turned into plutonium, and the research suggests that those rods can produce 6kg of plutonium a year, enough to make one or two nuclear warheads.
“Given that North Korea will likely need two-three years before it discharges irradiated fuel containing plutonium and another six to 12 months to separate the plutonium, there remains time to negotiate a shutdown of the reactor before North Korea can use any of this new plutonium in nuclear weapons,” said the authors of a report for ISIS, the Institute for Science and International Security.
Joel Wit of 38 North said:
“The reactor restart fits a pattern of continued expansion of North Korea’s WMD programs short of conducting outright nuclear and missile tests.”
“An operating reactor will enable Pyongyang to renew the production of plutonium, albeit on a small scale, that will enable it to slowly expand its stockpile of nuclear bombs.”
The Yongbyon plant was closed in 2007 under the terms of an international disarmament agreement. Analysts believe that North Korea already has between four and ten nuclear warheads based on production before the shutdown. North Korea stated in April of this year that it intended to restart the facility.
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