North Korea seems to have reactivated the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, reported the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warning of a “deeply worrying” fact that may indicate an expansion of the prohibited arms program of the communist regime. “Since the beginning of July there are indicators, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor,” the IAEA indicated in its annual report.
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, proposed in 2019 to dismantle part of the Yongbyon complex, the country’s main nuclear facility, in his second summit with then-US presidents Donald Trump in exchange for a reduction in international sanctions, but the offer was rejected.
Since December 2018, the reactor appeared to have been idle, the IAEA report, dated Friday, said.
The inspectors of this UN body were expelled from North Korea in 2009 and, since then, have to monitor North Korean nuclear activity from abroad. The possible reactivation of the reactor adds to recent signs that Pyongyang is using a radioquímico laboratory nearby to separate plutonium from used fuel previously withdrawn from the reactor.
Both events are “deeply worrying” and would constitute a “clear violation” of UN resolutions, the IAEA said.
A senior official in US diplomacy indicated that Washington was aware of the report and was coordinating its action with other partner countries. “This report underlines the urgent need for dialogue and diplomacy so that we can achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” this State Department source told AFP. “We continue to seek dialogue with North Korea to resolve this alleged activity,” he added.
Located 100 kilometers north of the capital, Yongbyon is home to the country’s first nuclear reactor and it is the only known source of plutonium for its weapons program. Still, it is suspected that it is not the only uranium enrichment facility in North Korea. Subject to numerous international sanctions, North Korea suspended nuclear and missile tests in 2018 during the diplomatic rapprochement with the United States, which is now stalled. In January 2020, the communist regime announced the end of its self-imposed moratorium and has since launched a series of short-range missile launches. Even so, it has not carried out a nuclear test since 2017.