North Korea Suspends Nuclear Reactor, Likely to Extract Plutonium for Weapons

Recent reports suggest that North Korea has ceased operations at its primary nuclear reactor, possibly to retrieve plutonium for weaponization by reprocessing spent fuel rods, according to a South Korean news source.

Quick Facts

  • Reactor Location: The 5 megawatt nuclear reactor is situated at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
  • Operational Status: The reactor has been non-operational since late September, as per U.S. and South Korean intelligence assessments.
  • Purpose of Shutdown: Indications suggest the shutdown might be for reprocessing to obtain weapons-grade plutonium.

The Yongbyon nuclear complex serves as North Korea’s primary source of plutonium, which is likely utilized for nuclear weapon production. The reprocessing of spent fuel rods from a nuclear reactor precedes the extraction of plutonium. Additionally, North Korea operates uranium enrichment facilities, an alternative source for nuclear weapon material.

There are rising concerns regarding the possibility of a nuclear test by North Korea. Although the exact reason for the reactor’s shutdown remains unconfirmed, past instances have seen the reactor being restarted after similar halts. The number of nuclear weapons North Korea possesses remains undisclosed, but independent estimates suggest they could have up to 70 kg of plutonium, sufficient for over 20 weapons.

U.S. nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who visited the Yongbyon complex in 2010, mentioned that despite North Korea’s prolonged engagement with the project, their plutonium production capacity and fissile material stock remain limited. Hecker expressed concerns over Russia potentially supplying plutonium to North Korea, especially after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea has previously conducted six underground nuclear tests. Concerns have arisen over the possibility of another test, aimed at developing miniaturized nuclear warheads. Last week, North Korea’s parliament endorsed a constitutional amendment related to its nuclear force policy. Kim Jong Un has also directed an “exponential” increase in nuclear arms production and diversification of nuclear capabilities.

Original article source: Yahoo News

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