North Korea appears to be moving aggressively to complete a light-water reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear facility, according to recent satellite pictures cited by CNN on Friday (see GSN, July 12).
The North restarted work on the reactor in spring after a suspension that began last December. New parts have been added to the uncovered roof and other parts of the plant since then, according to an assessment by IHS Jane's image specialist Allison Puccioni of a June 24 picture taken from orbit. A "traveling crane" appears to have been moved to the site in April.
"This crane can 'swing' over the top of the reactor building to facilitate construction," Puccioni said. "It will likely assist in mounting the reactor dome."
The dome itself can be seen adjacent to the primary reactor structure.
While North Korea says the reactor is intended for civilian energy production, "it is also an important component in its effort to build nuclear weapons," according to the website 38 North, managed by the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
North Korea's nuclear arms program to date has relied on plutonium. Pyongyang says its uranium enrichment plant at Yongbyon is intended to produce fuel for the reactor, but the material could also be refined further to power nuclear weapons.
Years of negotiations have failed to persuade Pyongyang to permanently end its nuclear arms effort. Six-nation talks on North Korean denuclearization were last held in December 2008, and there have been signs the regime is preparing a follow-up to its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.
Completion of the dome would not signal the completion of the reactor, Puccioni indicated.
"The next major step in the construction of this facility will be the loading of the heavy components, such as the pressure vessel, steam generator, and pressurizer, likely through the cylindrical opening in the roof of the reactor containment building. Exactly when that process will begin is unclear; it depends on the availability of the heavy components," 38 North said in a May posting. "Recently, the North Koreans stated that those components were being manufactured parallel to the construction of the reactor buildings. The loading process could last six to 12 months" (Adam Levine, CNN, July 13).
Top diplomats from Japan, South Korea and the United States on Thursday again called on North Korea to give up its nuclear arms ambitions," the U.S. State Department said.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
"The ministers urged North Korea to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, including uranium enrichment, in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner, and to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program," according to a statement issued from the meeting.
"The ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea. The ministers reiterated that any provocation by North Korea, including another nuclear test or missile launch, will be met with a resolute and coordinated response from the international community, as indicated in the April 16 Presidential Statement of the U.N. Security Council," the statement reads. "The ministers noted that a different path remains open to North Korea if it refrains from provocations and complies with its international obligations and commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks and U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, which includes taking concrete actions toward denuclearization" (U.S. State Department release, July 12).
Foreign ministers at the close of the regional gathering on Friday supported a chairman's statement that "urged concerned parties not to take any further provocations and to comply with their respective obligations under the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and their commitment under the 2005 Six-Party Talks Joint Statement,” the Korea Herald reported.
“The ministers further reiterated the call for all parties concerned to explore all possibilities to engage in peaceful dialogue that would lead to the creation of an atmosphere of trust and confidence among the concerned parties," according to the document (Shin Hyon-hee, Korea Herald, July 13).
Meanwhile, top South Korean nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam is scheduled next week to talk with senior diplomatic officials in France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Friday. The nuclear standoff with North Korea will be the topic of discussion (Xinhua News Agency, July 13).
North Korea appears to be moving aggressively to complete a light-water reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear facility, according to recent satellite pictures cited by CNN on Friday.