Satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility taken on Friday showed signs of activities associated with nuclear fuel reprocessing. It was taken on the same day as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in his address that he thinks his country should not obsess with a summit with the U.S. only because of sanctions relief. Experts say North Korea sent messages of engagement and pressure at the same time while expressing its willingness for a third summit with the U.S. in order to draw a concession from Washington.
The Center for Strategic and International Security (CSIS), a U.S. think tank, said on its website on Tuesday (local time) that satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility found five railcars near its uranium enrichment facility and radiochemistry laboratory. “In the past, these specialized railcars appear to have been associated with the movement of radioactive material or reprocessing campaigns,” the CSIS said. “The current activity, along with their configurations, does not rule out their possible involvement in such activity.” Considering that nuclear reprocessing is conducted to recover fissionable plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, the activity can be translated as a move to produce additional nuclear weapons. Jenny Town, a research analyst at the Stimson Center and managing editor and producer of “38 North,” told Reuters that it would be a significant development if reprocessing was actually taking place given that there was no agreement regarding Yongbyon in Hanoi.
This is the first time that reprocessing activities have been spotted at the Yongbyon nuclear facility since the failed Hanoi summit on Feb. 28. During a briefing to the National Assembly on March 5, Suh Hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service of South Korea, said, “The 5MW reactor at Yongbyon had been inactive since the end of last year and no further reprocessing activities appeared to be taking place.”
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