North Korea has restarted construction of a 50-megawatt nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, the South Korean newspaper Choson Ilbo reported yesterday (see GSN, Oct. 3).
Construction on the reactor had been suspended after 1994 Agreed Framework between Washington and Pyongyang, but South Korean and U.S. intelligence sources in September reported trucks, personnel and equipment traveling to the reactor site, according to a diplomatic source in Seoul.
North Korea recently claimed to have extracted plutonium from 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods that had been irradiated in a five-megawatt reactor and stored since 1994. If the larger reactor comes on line, it could produce 50 kilograms of plutonium annually, enough for 10 nuclear weapons, experts said.
“The U.S. intelligence authorities tentatively assess that North Korea’s reconstruction of the 50-megawatt nuclear reactor does not constitute an ‘imminent threat,’” the diplomatic source said, adding that “it will take some time to remove rust and do other things to resume the construction, which has been suspended for 10 years” (Kwon Kyong-pok, Choson Ilbo/BBC Monitoring, Oct. 5).
KEDO Reactor Program Likely to Be SuspendedMeanwhile, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization will probably suspend construction on two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea, according to the KEDO’s top official. KEDO is run by South Korea, Japan, the United States and the European Union, with a $1.4 billion investment to date.
“All four governments have worked mightily to find consensus where it exists, but it isn’t always there,” said KEDO Executive Director Charles Kartman.
“Suspension is something that I expect the governments eventually to decide to do,” he said, adding, “It makes a lot of sense given all of the uncertainties” (Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 6).