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More Activity Detected at N. Korean Nuclear-Materials Complex

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

North Korean soldiers march during a September ceremony at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone along the border with South Korea. New satellite photographs suggest that Pyongyang is busily expanding its nuclear-materials production complex at Yongbyon (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images). North Korean soldiers march during a September ceremony at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone along the border with South Korea. New satellite photographs suggest that Pyongyang is busily expanding its nuclear-materials production complex at Yongbyon (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images).

WASHINGTON -- North Korea's nuclear-materials complex is teeming with activity, according to Thursday image analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, which examined satellite photographs taken as recently as Monday.

"Recent commercial satellite imagery shows that North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear center appears to be increasingly active," reads the report by David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini. "There are several signs of new and continued activity and progress in the construction of facilities."

Pyongyang in April declared it would dedicate more facilities at Yongbyon to producing fissile material for its nuclear weapons program. As part of that effort, the North has been assessed in recent months to have restarted its five-megawatt plutonium-production reactor, which was disabled under a now-defunct 2007 denuclearization agreement.

Dec. 2 commercial satellite images show water being discharged close to the reactor. The water was likely used to cool the carbon dioxide gas in the reactor's core, according to the ISIS report. "It's presence signifies testing or ongoing operation of the 5 MWe reactor," the assessment reads.

Four new facilities have been built and one building was torn down at an area to the north of the complex's fuel-fabrication center. Trees cut down in different areas of Yongbyon suggest that more building work is in the offing. There are also indications of construction close to the complex's uranium centrifuge plant.  A satellite photo taken in late July indicated potential building work happening next to the facility. A Dec. 2 image shows that work on the area is nearing completion, though its purpose "cannot conclusively be identified," according to the report.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Friday said that North Korea's nuclear work would not bring economic rewards, Reuters reported.

"The simple fact is this -- North Korea can never achieve security and prosperity so long as it pursues nuclear weapons, period," said the vice president during a visit to Seoul.

Biden said the United States is open to resuming frozen multinational nuclear negotiations, but only after the Kim Jong Un regime "demonstrates its full commitment to a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization."

NTI Analysis

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  • U.S. Nuclear Weapons Budget: An Overview

    Sept. 27, 2013

    A fact sheet on current and projected costs of maintaining the U.S. nuclear deterrent, produced by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Country Profile

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North Korea

This article provides an overview of North Korea's historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

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