North Korea restarts plutonium reactor

A U.S. intelligence chief reported to Congress on Tuesday that North Korea has reactivated a plutonium reactor that could provide fuel for nuclear weapons and generate a plutonium stockpile produced in weeks or months.

Following an announcement by Pyongyang in 2013 that it intended to refurbish and restart its nuclear facilities, including the facility at Yongbyon that temporarily closed in 2007, it was reported by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that North Korea had gone through with its plans for the Yongbyon uranium enrichment facility.

“We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the plutonium production reactor,” Clapper said at a meeting with the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We further assess that North Korea has been operating the reactor long enough so that it could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel within a matter of weeks to months.”

Experts have estimated that when the Yongbyon facility becomes fully operational, the reactor could produce one nuclear bomb’s worth of plutonium each year. It would take about 4 kilograms of plutonium to make a bomb that could explode with a force of 20 kilotons.

This report comes just after North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Feb. 7, which drew condemnation from China, Russia, and the United States. Clapper pointed out to the committee that Pyongyang was “committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile capable of posing a direct threat to the United States.”

He said Pyongyang had “publicly displayed a mobile intercontinental ballistic missile system and had taken initial steps toward fielding this system, although the system has not been flight-tested.” U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye held a conversation Monday to discuss the rocket launch, both agreeing that it “represents yet another destabilizing and provocative action” by North Korea. These actions violate resolutions set forth by the United Nations Security Council that are intended to limit North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

The North carried out its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6. The United States Geological Survey detected a magnitude 5.1 seismic disturbance in Korea. North Korea claimed it tested a hydrogen bomb, however, that claim has not been verified. According to expert U.S. analysts, the seismic data collected was not consistent with the power that would have been generated by a hydrogen bomb explosion.

It mentioned in the U.S. report provided by Clapper that since Kim Jong Un took over as the leader of North Korea, he “continues to challenge the international community with provocative and threatening behavior in pursuit of his goals, as prominently demonstrated in the November 2014 cyber attack on Sony, the August 2015 inter-Korean confrontation spurred by the North’s placement of landmines that injured two South Korean soldiers, and the fourth nuclear test” in January.

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