While the Biden administration has been mired in multiple crises at home and in other parts of the world, North Korea, it appears, has fired up one of its nuclear reactors capable of producing weapons-grade material needed for nuclear weapons.
According to a new International Atomic Energy Agency report issued last week, an experimental nuclear power plant and radiochemical laboratory in Yongbyon — about 65 miles north of Pyongyang — shows signs of reactivation after a period of dormancy.
#Breaking #NorthKorea nuclear activities are “cause for serious concern@ ~ appears to have Restarted #Yongbyon Nuclear Reactor – IAEA says in report obtained by @CBSNews // UnitedNations pic.twitter.com/sjGeKh01Mk
— Pamela Falk (@PamelaFalk) August 30, 2021
“There were no indications of reactor operation from early December 2018 to the beginning of July 2021,” the watchdog report explains. “However, since early July 2021, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor.”
For those keeping track at home, North Korea’s apparent discontinuation of nuclear activity in 2018 followed then-President Trump’s June 2018 meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore aimed at denuclearization. And it seems the ceased operations continued just long enough for North Korea to judge President Biden’s administration and conclude that it could resume work on its nuclear program.
“The steam plant that serves the Radiochemical Laboratory operated for approximately five months, from mid-February 2021 until early July 2021. The duration of the operation of the steam plant and Radiochemical Laboratory in 2021 is significantly longer than that observed in the past during possible waste treatment or maintenance activities.”
This five-month period of activity, the IAEA explains, “is consistent with the time required to reprocess a complete core of irradiated fuel from the… reactor” based on the reactor’s known technical information and past announcements of such activity from North Korea’s government.
In the past, spent fuel rods from the reactor at Yongbyon were used to create fissile material for North Korea’s nuclear weapons at the nearby radiochemical laboratory despite propaganda claims that the work was nothing more than harmless training.
The Yongbyon facility, as the BBC previously explained, is the key site for North Korea’s nuclear program:
The Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre is a sprawling campus that primarily serves a military mission – producing fissile material for North Korea’s nuclear weapons. Its construction began in 1961, after North Korea reached two nuclear agreements with the Soviet Union.
This facility is really a plutonium reprocessing facility used to transform spent fuel rods from the reactors into weapons-useable material. North Korea originally told the IAEA that the facility was training nuclear scientists, however the IAEA concluded it was really for reprocessing.
North Korea’s government doesn’t grant regular permission or access for site visits by IAEA investigators, so the watchdog report is based only on what can be gathered from open source information and satellite imagery. “Without such access,” the report explains, “the Agency cannot confirm either the operational status” of the facility “or the nature and purpose of the activities conducted therein.”
North Korea’s “nuclear activities continue to be a cause for serious concern. Furthermore, the new indications of the operation of the… reactor and the Radiochemical Laboratory are deeply troubling. The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable.”
With President Biden struggling to handle the crisis of his administration’s creation in Afghanistan while displaying fealty to China and Russia since taking office, it’s of little surprise that North Korea would take advantage of the situation to return to its nuclear ambitions in what is sadly just another example of Biden’s promise to “build back better” applying to our country’s adversaries.
Author: Spencer Brown
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