Monday, May 15, 2006

Yongbyon fired up?

Reuters reports that, according to, North Korea appears to have resumed operations at its atomic reactor in Yongbyon, which is suspected of producing fissile material for Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

These is the same reactor where, about a year ago, North Korea said it halted operations in order to extract 8,000 fuel rods. Proliferation experts have said the rods could produce enough weapons-grade material for two or three nuclear bombs.

Satellite photos from January of this year show steam coming out of one of the towers at the reactor, indicating it is active, according to images released over the weekend by Global Security, which provides information on intelligence and security matters.

The photo caption says the steam plume in the January 5, 2006 view "is indicative of the reactor being active." The captions also say that a dirt path at the facility has been paved, and there are signs indicating an influx in recent months of vehicles and containers at the nuclear facility.

Last August, the Asahi Shimbun said a US satellite had detected signs that North Korea had restarted the Yongbyon reactor, quoting unnamed sources familiar with the North's nuclear programs.

The five-megawatt reactor was shut down in 1994 under the U.S.-North Korea agreed framework when 8,000 spent fuel rods were removed. It was restarted again in February, 2003 after the deal fell apart.

One wonders where this is headed, and for what purpose the US released the spy photos and the information about them, but I like the idea that the North Korean regime knows that we have a good idea what they're up to.

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