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New Images Show North Korea Advancing Work on Atomic Reactor

North Korea’s Yongbyon light-water reactor facility, shown in February. Pictures taken from space in May and June show that Pyongyang has achieved further progress in constructing the atomic plant, a think tank in Washington said on Tuesday (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe). North Korea’s Yongbyon light-water reactor facility, shown in February. Pictures taken from space in May and June show that Pyongyang has achieved further progress in constructing the atomic plant, a think tank in Washington said on Tuesday (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe).

Pictures taken from orbit in recent months show that North Korea continues to make headway in building of a light-water atomic reactor at the Yongbyon complex, according to an analysis issued on Tuesday by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (see GSN, Aug. 13).

"Satellite imagery spanning May and June 2012 shows construction progressing apace at the Yongbyon experimental light water reactor (LWR)," the report says. "New construction material has been placed on and near the reactor building. This building has yet to be covered with the dome that has been resting adjacent to the building since November 2011. Apart from the dome, other major external work on the reactor and adjacent building seems to be complete with most of the activity occurring inside the reactor building."

An image taken on May 3 reveals heavy lifting equipment alongside the reactor building. A picture snapped roughly one month later shows a tall quadrilateral shaped edifice has been built next to the north side of the reactor. As of June 24, two new beams seemed to have been installed over the top of the reactor, which still lacked a roof.

An atomic reactor specialist who analyzed the images predicted the reactor might be finished in the last six months of next year.

A building in the Yongbyon fuel production complex also seems to have been finished, with work ongoing for two other structures in the complex, according to a June 5 picture.

North Korea claims the experimental light-water reactor would use uranium enriched at the nearby facility to generate atomic energy for peaceful purposes.

There are concerns, though, that the North instead intends to refine uranium to nuclear weapon-grade levels. Plutonium produced by the reactor could also be used to fuel atomic bombs.

The North's nuclear weapons program to date has relied on plutonium, but some experts have said the regime could use a uranium-powered device in a possible follow-up to its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests (see GSN, Aug. 7; Albright/Avagyan, Institute for Science and International Security, Aug. 14).

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