News / Asia

North Korea to Restart Yongbyon Nuclear Reactor

In this photo released by U.S. researchers who visited North Korea, pits from which dissolver tanks for uranium ore concentrate have been removed are seen at the Yongbyon Nuclear Center in North Korea, Feb. 14, 2008.
In this photo released by U.S. researchers who visited North Korea, pits from which dissolver tanks for uranium ore concentrate have been removed are seen at the Yongbyon Nuclear Center in North Korea, Feb. 14, 2008.
North Korea says it is restarting nuclear operations at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, adding to already heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.

According to North Korean state media, a spokesman for the country's atomic energy department says it will begin, without delay, work to restart the uranium enrichment plant and the five megawatt graphite moderated reactor.

The action is being taken as part of the new “strategic line” announced by leader Kim Jong Un of “simultaneously pushing forward economic construction and the building of nuclear armed forces.”

Watch related video:

Related video of Korean peninsula tensionsi
April 02, 2013 4:36 PM
North Korea says it is restarting operations at a shuttered plutonium nuclear reactor and hinted at further enrichment of uranium, adding to already heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.

South Korea, China express regrets

In South Korea, foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young called the North Korean announcement "truly regrettable," adding that North Korea should keep its promises and agreements and stick to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

China Tuesday also voiced its concern. "We have noticed the remarks of the DPRK and express our regrets," Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing.  "We call on the relevant parties to keep calm and exercise restraint."

The North's Yongbyon facility was shuttered under an agreement reached in 2007 at six-party talks including the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. North Korea destroyed the plant's cooling tower the next year and would presumably need to rebuild it before the reactor could be restarted.

Refurbishing the facility would allow North Korea to make nuclear weapons by extracting plutonium from highly radioactive fuel rods that are no longer usable for making electricity.

Scientists estimate the reactor would need to run for about one year before North Korea could extract enough plutonium for one additional nuclear weapon.

Tensions Rising on Korean Peninsula

  • February 12: North Korea carries out third nuclear test
  • March 27: North Korea cuts military hotline with South Korea
  • March 28: U.S. B-2 bombers fly over Korean peninsula
  • March 30: North Korea says it has entered a "state of war" with South Korea
  • April 3: North Korea blocks South Korean workers from Kaesong
  • April 4: North Korea moves a missile to its east coast
  • April 9: North Korea urges foreigners to leave the South.  The U.S. and South Korea raise alert level
  • April 14: US Secretary of State John Kerry offers talks with Pyongyang if it moves to scrap nuclear weapons
  • April 16: North Korea issues threats after anti-Pyongyang protests in Seoul
  • April 29: North Korea holds back seven South Koreans at Kaesong
  • April 30: North Korea sentences American to 15 years hard labor for hostile acts
  • May 20: North Korea fires projectiles for a consecutive third day
  • May 24: North Korean envoy wraps up China visit for talks on Korean tensions
  • June 7: South Korea accepts Pyongyang's offer of talks on Kaesong and other issues
South Korea, US militaries making preparations for deterrence

Before the announcement from Pyongyang Tuesday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye held an unscheduled security meeting with her defense and unification ministers and national intelligence chief.

Presidential spokesman Yoon Chang-jung says the president has decreed that it will be necessary to strongly punish North Korea, should it provoke.  But, Yoon says it is more important to have strong diplomatic and military deterrence to ensure that North Korea does nothing provocative.

The statement was made just minutes before the announcement from Pyongyang about the Yongbyon nuclear facility.

South Korea says it is keeping a close eye on North Korea's Tongchang-ri launch site.  Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters Tuesday there appeared to be no signs of an imminent missile launch. But, what activities South Korea has detected at the site are secret and cannot be revealed.

Meanwhile, the United States is deploying anti-missile ships to back up its public statements that it takes the continuing military threats from North Korea very seriously. Military sources say the U.S. Navy's Seventh fleet has moved the USS McCain to a position off the southwestern coast of South Korea.  

Another destroyer, the USS Decatur, is reported to be on the way to the Korean peninsula, along with a sea-based X-band radar platform that can track possible missile launches.

A Defense Department official called this "a prudent move that provides greater missile defense options, should they become necessary."

The positioning of the navy vessels follows the publicized simulated bombing runs of U.S. Air Force B-52 and B-2 bombers as part of the annual Foal Eagle joint exercise with South Korea's military.

On Sunday, a pair of F-22 Raptors, the Air Force's premier stealth fighter jets, flew from Okinawa, Japan. The Pentagon says they are on now on “static display” at Osan Air Base in South Korea as part of “alliance assurance.”

Military sources in Washington and Seoul say they have detected no mobilization of North Korea's forces, despite the near-daily rhetoric from Pyongyang that its forces are poised for an open conflict.

In a rare “special statement” the North declared relations with the South in a “state of war,” March 30.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se is scheduled to hold his first talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington, Tuesday. Secretary Kerry is scheduled to travel to South Korea, later this month.

Additional reporting by Shannon Van Sant in Beijing

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Observer from: Southeastasia
April 03, 2013 11:22 AM
This young "leader" finds life boring and meaningless, so he is trying to find some thrill by bullying South Korea and the US. He is also hungry for recognition. If Obama invites him to Washington, he will gain some recognition, and he will be more contented.

by: Stephen Real from: Columbia USA
April 02, 2013 6:34 AM
If they start that plant up? Let them eat plutonium. Give them nothing.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs