News / Asia

Security Firm Says North Korea Building Reactor

This satellite image provided by Space Imaging Asia shows the Yongbyon Nuclear Center, located north of Pyongyang, North Korea (2002 file photo)
This satellite image provided by Space Imaging Asia shows the Yongbyon Nuclear Center, located north of Pyongyang, North Korea (2002 file photo)

A private U.S. security firm says it has used satellite imagery to confirm reports that the North Korean government is building an experimental light water nuclear reactor.

The Washington-based non-profit nuclear research organization the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) this week released pictures it says shows construction under way at the disabled Yongbyon nuclear site.

The pictures confirm reports from two American experts who recently visited the site.  Diplomat Jack Pritchard, a North Korean expert in presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations said this week that North Korean officials told him they were building the reactor.

U.S. nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea with Pritchard, made similar comments to Japan's Kyodo news agency.

Experts say light water nuclear reactors are typically used only for generating electricity.

But analysts say construction of the plant could give North Korea a reason to enrich uranium, which can be used to fuel a reactor or make nuclear weapons.

Pritchard said Pyongyang wants to complete the small reactor by 2012.  But he and Hecker said they are doubtful North Korea would succeed with the project by then.  

Some analysts believe Pyongyang is trying to create pressure for South Korea and the United States to return to 6-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program.  The talks, which broke off last year, were aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for financial aid.

ISIS is a non-partisan institution dedicated to informing the public policy issues affecting international security and is focused on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

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