Seoul, South Korea | North Korea appears to have restarted its plutonium-producing reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, according to the relevant International Atomic Energy Agency.
“Since early July, there have been indications, including a cooling water spill, consistent with the operation of the reactor,” the IAEA said in its annual report.
The report released on Friday said the Yongbyon reactor had been shutting down since early December 2018.
The restart of this five-megawatt reactor 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 sticking points at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s second summit with US President Donald Trump, which ended in failure in 2019 in Hanoi.
North Korea has offered to dismantle part of the Yongbyon complex, but not its other nuclear production infrastructure, in exchange for a “partial” lifting of economic sanctions. Washington rejected this offer and negotiations between the two countries have stalled ever since.
The reclusive regime is subject to multiple international sanctions for its military programmes, including banned nuclear programs that have advanced significantly under Kim Jong Un.
IAEA experts were expelled from North Korea in 2009 and since then the agency has been monitoring the country’s activities from abroad.
A possible restart of this reactor follows recent information that Pyongyang is also using a radiochemical laboratory located nearby to separate plutonium from spent fuel coming from the reactor.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said signs of operating reactors and laboratories were “extremely worrying,” adding that these activities constituted a “clear violation” of United Nations resolutions.
A senior US State Department official told AFP that the report “underscores the urgent need for dialogue and diplomacy in order to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
“We continue to seek dialogue with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to discuss this activity and all issues related to denuclearization,” he added.
Last week, the US special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, reiterated his desire to meet with his North Korean counterparts “anywhere, anytime.”
The North Korean nuclear complex is located in Yongbyon, about one hundred kilometers north of Pyongyang, and includes dozens of buildings related to the North Korean nuclear program.
Opened in 1986, this is where North Korea’s first reactor, North Korea’s only known source of plutonium, was built.
However, Yongbyon will not be the country’s only uranium enrichment facility, and its closure will not mean the end of the country’s nuclear program.
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