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North Korea Could Restart Plutonium Reactor in 1-2 Months: Researchers

An April 2012 satellite image of the Yongbyon nuclear complex in North Korea. Satellite pictures taken as recently as May 22 indicate the North could be within two months of restarting a plutonium-producing reactor at the site (AP Photo/GeoEye). An April 2012 satellite image of the Yongbyon nuclear complex in North Korea. Satellite pictures taken as recently as May 22 indicate the North could be within two months of restarting a plutonium-producing reactor at the site (AP Photo/GeoEye).

North Korea could be within one to two months of resuming operations at a deactivated nuclear reactor but the production of additional plutonium will depend on an adequate supply of new fuel rods, the Associated Press reported on Monday, citing the Johns Hopkins University website 38 North.

Pyongyang two months ago declared it would reopen the reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex. "The purpose for restarting the five-megawatt reactor is crystal clear: the production of more plutonium for more bombs," according to website editor Joel Wit.

The 38 North analysis based its timeline on an examination of satellite surveillance pictures dating as recently as May 22. The assessment says the North has made advances toward reopening the plant, including near-completion of a reactor coolant system. However, it is not clear whether Pyongyang had acquired the fuel rods to operate the reactor, which was disabled under an unsuccessful 2007 denuclearization agreement with the United States.

"North Korea may not be testing long-range missiles or nuclear weapons right now but its WMD program is moving ahead," said Wit, a former State Department official.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government was cool toward a North Korean envoy when he visited late last month, Reuters reported, citing an informed source. The trip was aimed at improving relations between the longtime allies after Pyongyang angered Beijing twice in the last six months by ignoring its wishes to refrain from missile and nuclear tests.

Chinese officials reportedly called on Choe Ryong Hae to tell his government that it must refrain from further nuclear weapons tests, but the envoy did not give much indication that the request would be considered. "(North) Korea has not mellowed," said the source, who was updated on Choe's meeting with Beijing officials.

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