North Korea has restarted a plutonium production reactor that could provide for the creation of nuclear weapons, a U.S. intelligence chief announced Feb. 9.
“We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the plutonium production reactor,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement obtained by The Hill.
The plutonium reactor has not been active since 2007.
“We further assess that North Korea has been operating the reactor long enough so that it could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel within a matter of weeks to months,” Clapper said.
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This past weekend, North Korea launched a long-range rocket, which the U.S. and other nations said was a violation of international ballistic missile sanctions. North Korea claimed it was a satellite launch.
North Korea is “... committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States,” Clapper said in prepared testimony for hearings with both the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. “We assess that North Korea has already taken initial steps toward fielding this system, although the system has not been flight-tested.”
It is estimated that North Korea, given its known plutonium production and uranium-enrichment program, currently has six to eight plutonium-based nuclear warheads, with the capability to build up to eight more, according to the Arms Control Association.
“Although North Korea issues official statements that include its justification for building nuclear weapons and threats to use them as a defensive or retaliatory measure, we do not know the details of Pyongyang’s nuclear doctrine or employment concepts,” Clapper said, according to The Hill. “We have long assessed that Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy.”