US Official says Plutonium Production for Nuclear Bombs Restarted by North Korea: Reuters

Showing that North Korea plans to pursue its nuclear weapons program in defiance of international sanctions, the country has restarted production of plutonium fuel, reported Reuters citing information from a senior U.S. State Department official.

Activities that indicate that North Korea has reactivated a plant to recover plutonium from spent reactor fuel at its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon were confirmed by the U.N. nuclear watchdog a day before the U.S. assessment came.

Despite tightened international sanctions after its fourth nuclear test in January, North Korea’s reclusive regime is working to ensure a steady supply of materials for its drive to build warheads is suggested by the latest developments.

Citing U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Reuters reports that Washington is worried by the new plutonium reprocessing effort. The source however did not say anything on any U.S. response.

“Everything in North Korea is a cause for concern,” the official told Reuters.

“They take the spent fuel from the 5 megawatt reactor at Yongbyon and let it cool and then take it to the reprocessing facility, and that’s where they’ve obtained the plutonium for their previous nuclear tests. So they are repeating that process,” the official said.

“That’s what they’re doing.”

The main reactor and the smaller plant at Yongbyon in North Korea was shut down in 2007 as part of an international disarmament-for-aid deal that later collapsed. In 2013, North Korea had vowed to restart all nuclear facilities and conducted its fourth nuclear test in January this year.

Last year it had seen signs of a resumption of activity at Yongbyon, said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The organization mainly monitors North Korea’s activities by satellite as it has no access to the country.

There have been indications of renewed plutonium reprocessing activities at Yongbyon, said IAEA chief Yukiya Amano at a news conference in Vienna on Monday. One of the routes to obtaining bomb fuel other than uranium enrichment is reprocessing that involves extracting plutonium from spent reactor fuel.

“I would agree that there are indications,” the U.S. official said.

While declining to comment directly on plutonium production, Seoul was closely watching movements related to the North’s nuclear facility “with grave concern”, said South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Cheong Joon-hee.

The denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and a resolution of the issue via talks has been always promoted by China, said a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry. It is North Korea’s lone major ally.

“We hope all parties can work hard together to put the nuclear issue back on the track of dialogue and negotiations,” spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.

There was no sign of any recent outside procurement involved in reactivating its plutonium reprocessing even though North Korea in the past has often obtained key components for its nuclear program from other countries despite international sanctions, the U.S. official said.

Though plutonium from spent fuel at Yongbyon is widely believed to have been used in its nuclear bombs, there is little proven knowledge about North Korea’s quantities of weapons-grade uranium or plutonium or its ability to produce either.

(Adapted from Reuters)

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