Amidst its long-dormant nuclear diplomacy with US, North Korea openly threatens to enlarge its atomic arsenal.
The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) seems to have restarted operating its main nuclear reactor used to produce nuclear weapons fuels, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in its report.
The annual report of the IAEA refers to a 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon – North Korea’s main nuclear complex, north of Pyongyang. The reactor produces plutonium, one of the two key ingredients required to build nuclear weapons along with highly enriched uranium.
North Korea’s nuclear activities continue to remain a cause for serious concern. And the new indications of the operationalization of the 5-megawatt reactor and the radio-chemical laboratory are deeply troubling, said the IAEA.
Troubling Indications: –
There were no indications of the reactor being operational from December 2018 to the beginning of July this year. However, as per the IAEA report, since early July 2021, there have been observations, including the discharge of cooling water, which indicate that the reactor is carrying on operations.
The IAEA report said that there were also indications of the operation of Yonbyon’s radiochemical laboratory this year from mid-February to early July. This period of operation is consistent with the previous reprocessing campaigns of irradiated fuel being discharged from the reactor announced by North Korea. The radiochemical laboratory is a facility where plutonium is extracted.
The Yongbyon site also produces highly enriched uranium which is the other critical nuclear fuel. However, the IAEA report said that, for a period of time, even though regular vehicular movements were observed, the reported centrifuge enrichment facility was not in operation.
This latest observation was the first sign in more than two and a half years indicating operational activity at the Yongbyon nuclear site since December 2018, months after the meeting between former US President Donald Trump and North Korea supreme leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore.
Yongbyon Nuclear Complex: –
Since 2009, Pyongyang has not allowed IAEA access to the Yongbyon or any other location in North Korea. In such a scenario, the nuclear watchdog uses open source information and satellite imagery to monitor developments in the nuclear program of North Korea.
The Yongbyon complex, which the communist nation calls “the heart” of its nuclear program, has always been at the center of international concerns for decades. It’s unclear exactly how many weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium have been produced at the Yongbyon and where it is stored.
In 2019, supreme leader Kim Jong Un offered to dismantle the entire Yongbyon complex in return of sanction relief, but it’s was rejected by the then US President Donald Trump as it meant only a partial surrender of North Korea’s nuclear capability because it is also believed to run multiple other covert nuclear facilities.
The motive behind the Move: –
In recent times, North Korea has warned that it would expand its nuclear program if the US doesn’t withdraw its “hostile” policy against the country, signaling towards the US-led sanctions and regular US-South Korean military drills. Earlier in August, Kim Yo Jong, Mr Kim’s influential sister, said North Korea would move towards “absolute deterrence” to deal with intensifying US threats.
Thus, amidst its long-dormant nuclear diplomacy with the US, North Korea openly threatens to enlarge its atomic arsenal. The global Covid-19 pandemic has made life within the nation’s already sealed borders even more difficult than in the past years.
The country’s economic problems as a result of the international economic sanctions have been exacerbated because of the regime’s decision to close borders to trading partners because of Covid-19, meaning that the country is in desperate of money for survival.
This has prompted the regime to seek concessions from the international community.
However, the biggest worry from the resumption of North Korea’s nuclear activities at Yongbyon is the risk of nuclear proliferation and the possibility of Pyongyang selling nuclear technology to other countries seeking nuclear weapons.