News / Asia

IAEA: Signs North Korea Reactor May Be Operating

FILE - Satellite image provided by GeoEye shows the area around the Yongbyon nuclear facility in Yongbyon, North Korea.
FILE - Satellite image provided by GeoEye shows the area around the Yongbyon nuclear facility in Yongbyon, North Korea.
Reuters

The U.N. nuclear watchdog said it has seen releases of steam and water indicating that North Korea may be operating a reactor, in the latest update on a plant that experts say could make plutonium for atomic bombs.

North Korea announced in April of last year that it would revive its aged five-megawatt research reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, saying it was seeking a deterrent capacity.

The isolated and poverty-stricken state defends its nuclear program as a "treasured sword" to counter what it sees as U.S.- led hostility.

In an annual report posted on it website, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said North Korea's nuclear program "remains a matter of serious concern".

The U.N. agency said it continued to monitor developments at Yongbyon through satellite imagery.

"Since late August 2013, the Agency has observed, through analysis of satellite imagery, steam discharges and the outflow of cooling water at the 5 MW(e) reactor, signatures which are consistent with the reactor's operation," the IAEA said.

"However, since the agency has had no access to the 5 MW(e) reactor since April 2009, it cannot confirm the operational status of the reactor," it said.

North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors in 2009 and the agency has had no inspectors in the country since then.

The Yongbyon reactor has been technically out of operation for years. North Korea destroyed its cooling tower in 2008 as a confidence-building step in talks with South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

When North Korea said it planned to revive it, experts said it would probably take about half a year to get it up and running, if it had not suffered significant damage from neglect.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued an assessment in January saying that North Korea had expanded its uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon and restarted the reactor there previously used for plutonium production.

The U.S. State Department called the moves "a significant step in the wrong direction" and contrary to North Korea's international commitments.

"These activities signal Pyongyang's clear lack of a genuine commitment to denuclearization," it said in a statement on Thursday.

Developing Nuclear Capabilities?

The U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said last month that commercial satellite imagery from late June showed that the reactor was active.

"North Korea has apparently made a decision to renovate the aged 5 MW(e) reactor to make plutonium for nuclear weapons for many more years," it said. "However, without more data, such as regular steam production, it is hard to determine the operational status of the reactor and thus to estimate the amount of plutonium produced by the reactor."

While North Korea has long boasted of making strides in acquiring a "nuclear deterrent", there had been general skepticism that it could master the step of miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to mount on a ballistic missile.

But there has been a shift in thinking since it conducted a nuclear test in February last year - its third since 2006 - and some experts have said it may be closer than previously thought to putting a nuclear warhead on a missile.

Yongbyon is also the site of other nuclear facilities and the IAEA said in its report that it had "observed ongoing renovation and new construction activities at various locations within" the complex.

"Although the purpose of such activities cannot be determined through satellite imagery alone, they appear to be broadly consistent with [North Korea's] statements that it is further developing its nuclear capabilities," it said.

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

Studies point to possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More