North Korea appears to have restarted Yongbyon nuclear reactor
August 31, 2021 - North Korea appears to have begun operating a reactor at the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Facility capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, according to a report by the United Nations’ atomic agency.
The annual report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) refers to a 5-megawatt reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, north of Pyongyang.
Since early July there have been discharges of cooling water consistent with the operation of the reactor, the IAEA report said. The reactor produces plutonium, one of the two key ingredients used to build nuclear weapons along with highly enriched uranium.
The report also detected operations at Yongbyon’s radiochemical laboratory from mid-February to early July this year. It said this period of operation is consistent with previous reprocessing campaigns announced by North Korea of irradiated fuel discharged from the reactor. The laboratory is a facility where plutonium is extracted by reprocessing spent fuel rods removed from reactors.
The Yongbyon complex, which North Korea calls “the heart” of its nuclear programme and research, has been at the centre of international concerns for decades. It’s not clear exactly how much weapons-grade plutonium or highly enriched uranium has been produced at Yongbyon and where North Korea stores it.