North Korea has reportedly restarted work on a dormant nuclear reactor project that could “dramatically increase” its ability to develop nuclear weapons.
A report and satellite images that have been provided to CNN show that new construction is underway at the facility that is believed to be intended for plutonium production.
The images appear to have been sourced in the last two months and would seem to show that North Korea has resumed work on a second nuclear core reactor at its Yongbyon complex. Experts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies have analyzed the photos and believe that substantial construction is ongoing there after “years of inactivity.”
The report follows North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s statements last week allegedly vowing to move the isolated nation’s nuclear program forward.
The second Yongbyon reactor would operate next to the first reactor at the site, which has been in operation since the 1980s. The new reactor is believed to be around 10 times larger than the existing one.
Middlebury Institute professor and nuclear weapons expert Jeffrey Lewis said that the new Yongbyon reactor has the potential to increase weapons-grade plutonium production “by a factor of 10.”
Lewis noted the images show that North Korea is connecting a cooling loop between a reactor and a pumphouse, with new water lines having been recently installed and buried. He noted that the connection of the cooling lines explains other activities detected around the reactor site in recent years.
Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Martin Meiners declined to comment about whether North Korea is taking steps toward construction work at the Yongbyon complex. He did say that the Pentagon remains “very clear on the threat” that North Korea poses to South Korea, Japan, and the U.S.
Meiners emphasized that America’s Pacific allies remain committed to “our shared objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
North Korea was believed to have stopped construction of the second Yongbyon reactor in 1994 as part of a denuclearization agreement with the U.S. At that time, President Bill Clinton said the agreement “does not rely on trust.” He said that the terms of the agreement instead relied on “formal assurances” that neither country would threaten the use of nuclear weapons against the other.