A restart of the Yongbyon reactor could mean Pyongyang is continuing its nuclear development program in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
North Korea appears to have restarted its plutonium-producing reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is concerned. “Since early July, there have been signs, including the spill of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor,” the IAEA said in its annual report.
The Yongbyon reactor has been said to have been shut down since early December 2018, the report dated Friday said. A restart of this reactor, with a capacity of five megawatts, could mean that Pyongyang is continuing its nuclear development program in flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
The future of this nuclear complex was one of the points of contention at the second summit of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with US President Donald Trump, which ended in failure in 2019 in Hanoi.
North Korea had offered to dismantle part of the Yongbyon complex but not its other nuclear generation infrastructure, in exchange for a “partial” lifting of economic sanctions. This offer had been rejected by Washington and since the negotiations between the two countries have stalled.
The reclusive regime is under multiple international sanctions for its military programs, including nuclear, banned and which significantly progressed under the reign of Kim Jong Un. IAEA experts were expelled from North Korea in 2009 and since the agency monitors North Korea’s activities from overseas.
A possible restart of this reactor follows recent information that Pyongyang is also using a radiochemical laboratory located nearby to separate the plutonium from the spent fuel coming from the reactor. The signs of reactor and laboratory operation are “deeply troubling,” the IAEA said, adding that these activities constitute a “clear violation” of UN resolutions.
Located about 100 kilometers north of Pyongyang, the North Korean Yongbyon nuclear complex includes dozens of buildings related to the North Korean nuclear program. Opened in 1986, this is where North Korea’s first reactor was built, North Korea’s only known source of plutonium. Yongbyon would not be the only uranium enrichment facility in the country, however, and its closure would not mean the end of the country’s nuclear program.