News / Asia

North Korea Appears to Restart Plutonium Reactor

A North Korean nuclear plant is seen before demolishing a cooling tower (R) in Yongbyon, in this photo taken June 27, 2008 and released by Kyodo.
A North Korean nuclear plant is seen before demolishing a cooling tower (R) in Yongbyon, in this photo taken June 27, 2008 and released by Kyodo.
Daniel Schearf
A U.S. institute says North Korea appears to be restarting its Yongbyon nuclear plant, citing satellite imagery last month showing white steam being vented from the newly reconstructed reactor.  South Korean defense officials say the apparent resumption demonstrates Pyongyang continues to pursue nuclear weapons and must be stopped. 

The U.S.-Korea Institute, at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said North Korea was likely restarting its Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

The institute circulated satellite images Thursday showing white steam venting from one of the plant's buildings in late August.

Analysts at the institute said the emissions indicated Pyongyang was restarting the reactor and it may soon be in full operation.

The nuclear plant uses steam produced by plutonium fuel rods to power turbines to create electricity.

Pyongyang has in the past processed the spent plutonium to create nuclear bombs that it has tested on three occasions, the most recent in February.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said restarting operations proved Pyongyang was not giving up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Spokesman Kim Min-seok said the nuclear reactor must be stopped.

x
He said North Korea conducted nuclear tests three times and experts assessed that the test conducted this spring was quite successful.  So if [North Korea] continued to operate the five megawatt reactor, then spent fuel would be produced and threats would be increased.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Cho Tai-young, said they couldn't confirm the reactor restart but were closely monitoring the situation. 

He said they have seen the report and the government was paying close attention to the information related to North Korea and following up.  "As we always tell you," he said, "sometimes it is not helpful to tell what we know. Therefore, we cannot confirm."

The possible reactor restart comes as relations on the Korean peninsula have been improving following months of tensions over North Korea’s third nuclear test and threats of nuclear attacks.

The two Koreas this week agreed to reopen the symbolically important Kaesong Industrial Complex.

The industrial park is the only North-South joint venture but has been closed since April when Pyongyang pulled its workers from the South Korean factories.

Pyongyang and Seoul also agreed, for the first time in years, to reopen tourism to a popular mountain resort and resume reunions between Korean families separated since the Korean War.

Koh Yu-hwan is a North Korea Studies professor at Dongguk University.  He said Pyongyang was restarting the nuclear reactor not to upset improving relations with Seoul but as a negotiating tactic with the United States.

He said North Korea's declaration in April that it would re-open the Yongbyon nuclear reactor was a bargaining chip to pressure the U.S.  For South Korea, he said, North Korea used the issue of Kaesong Industrial Complex as a bargaining chip.  He said North Korea's talk about starting up the nuclear reactor was against the United States implying that it could increase their nuclear power.

North Korea built the Yongbyong reactor in the 1980s but agreed to shut it down under a 1994 agreement with the U.S.  That deal broke down in 2002.

North Korea restarted the reactor and in 2006 tested its first nuclear device.  The Yongybyon facility was disabled once again under a 2007 agreement with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.

Under the six-nation accord, North Korea in 2008 dramatically blew up the cooling tower at Yongbyon.  But only months later, in response to sanctions over a rocket test, Pyongyang pulled out of the agreement, began processing nuclear fuel, and tested its second nuclear bomb.

In response to questions on the restarting of the plutonium reactor, China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei Thursday urged a return to six-nation talks.

He said they [Chinese authorities] were aware of the reports.  The denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and its peace and stability, he said, has always been China's position and responds to the interests of all parties. He said it was necessary that all parties made an effort.

Beijing has been pushing for six-party-talks since Pyongyang in June said it was ready to talk with the grouping.

North Korea officially walked out of the negotiations in 2009.  Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo said they would not resume the talks until Pyongyang showed sincerity to denuclearize.

Experts at the U.S.-Korea Institute said a functioning Yongbyon facility could eventually produce six kilograms of plutonium a year, enough to make two nuclear bombs.

North Korea is estimated to have collected enough plutonium to build as many as 12 bombs but is believed to be years away from being able to mount them onto missiles.

Seoul bureau Producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report.

You May Like

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid