TOPAround Asia: satellite images indicate that N Korea has restarted nuclear reactor

Around Asia: satellite images indicate that N Korea has restarted nuclear reactor

By Alec Jordan

North Korea has restarted a plutonium reactor after satellite images appeared to show white steam rising from a building at its mothballed nuclear complex, according to a US research institute.

The satellite images taken August 31 shows smoke coming from a building near the hall that houses the plutonium production reactor’s steam turbines and electric generators.

“The white coloration and volume are consistent with steam being vented because the electrical generating system is about to come online, indicating that the reactor is in or nearing operation,” US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said.

Later imagery dated September 19 provided “compelling evidence” after it showed hot water being released from the Yongbyon nuclear plant into a nearby river.

Hot water is usually discharged after high-pressure steam passes through the turbines at the plant and condenses into liquid, the US-Korea Institute said.

The Soviet-era reactor can produce 6 kg (13.2 lb) of plutonium a year, the institute added.

North Korea is believed to have collected enough plutonium-based fissile material from Yongbyon to arm five to ten small bombs.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, said it did not yet have a “clear understanding” of the situation.

Glyn Davies, US special envoy for North Korea, said it would be a serious development if the restart was confirmed.

“It would violate a series of UN Security Council resolutions,” Davies said.

A US study last month revealed that Pyongyang appeared to be able to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels without importing the main components it needs to produce nuclear weapons. This could undermine international sanctions imposed on the rogue nation after conducting atomic bomb tests the last February.

By: Maesie Bertumen

Image from Dr. Strangelove: marsmet532/Flickr