The analysis, by the 38 North website, comes days after the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) described new indications of the operation of the 5MW(e) reactor and the radiochemical (reprocessing) laboratory at Yongbyon as “deeply troubling”. The report, co-authored by Frank Pabian, Jenny Town and Jack Liu, said: “Commercial satellite imagery of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre provides more evidence that operations at the 5 MWe Reactor have likely restarted.
“Consistent with a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a discharge of cooling water into a new outflow channel leading into the Kuryong River is visible in satellite imagery from August 25.”
It adds” “This has historically been one of the key indicators of reactor operations. However, unlike past intervals when the reactor was operating, no steam has been observed coming from the generator building.”
The pictures were all taken by the Pleiades satellite on August 25.
The first two show an overview of the reactor area and a close-up of reactor outfall, while a third suggests there is “no visible smoke emission at Thermal Plant servicing the Radiochemical Laboratory”.
The report adds: “This recent activity is the first indication of reactor operations since spring of 2018.
“Since then, traffic has consistently been observed in and around the reactor area, likely indicative of maintenance or other reactor start-up activities.”
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“At the same time, a series of images from early July to the present indicate that operations at the Thermal (Steam) Plant, supplying steam to the Radiochemical Laboratory for reprocessing activities, have ceased since early July.
“As noted in the IAEA report, the period of operations from mid-February to early July is consistent with the time needed to ‘reprocess a complete core of irradiated fuel from the 5MW(e) reactor.’”
Speaking to Express.co.uk yesterday, Jim Hoare, of London’s School of Oriental and Asian Studies, said: “While NK has not tested any nuclear weapons in recent years, they appear to have kept the facilities functioning.
“There would, after all, be little advantage in having the weapons if you did not have the backup facilities for them, and adding to what you have got perhaps increases the sense of security.
”They are not getting anything from the US and South Korea has proved no help.”
Also yesterday, Dutch MEP Michiel Hoogeveen, who represents JA21 in the European Parliament, told Express.co.uk: “I think not only the restart of the nuclear power reactor is a worrying development, but the entire situation on the Korean Peninsula is deteriorating since Biden took office.
“Yongbyon restarting, military exercises and a lack of dialogue can contribute to a situation as seen in 2017. Increasing the risk of (accidental) military escalations.”
A series of North Korean missile tests in 2017 raised tensions dramatically.
Estimates of the nation’s nuclear arsenal range between 15 and 60 weapons, probably including hydrogen bombs.
Many experts believe the Hwasong-15 missile can hit any target in the United States.