The South Korean spy agency has confirmed that North Korea restarted its Soviet-era plutonium reactor in a bid to boost its nuclear weapons program.
Nam Jae-joon, the director of the National Intelligence Service of South Korea, said the North restarted the reactor as part of a plan to produce both the plutonium and highly enriched uranium needed to expand its nuclear arsenal, the New York Times reported.
According to nuclear experts in the US, satellite photographs from September indicated that the North restarted the five-megawatt reactor in its nuclear complex north of Pyongyang.
“A commercial satellite image taken on September 19 showed the plutonium reactor releasing hot waste water into a river through a new drainpipe,” said the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in a statement last week.
Russia has warned that the Yongbyon reactor, built in 1986, is obsolete and restarting it could have catastrophic results.
“Our main concern is linked to a very likely man-made disaster as a consequence. The reactor is in a nightmarish state, it is a design dating back to the 1950s,” a Russian diplomatic source told Interfax last month. “For the Korean peninsula this could entail terrible consequences, if not a man-made catastrophe.”
The restart is contrary to claims from Pyongyang that the country is ready to resume negotiations.
North Korea has not confirmed the restart of Yongbyon, but had preveiously stated that it intended to resume after a 6-year hiatus.
Sources: New York Times