US spy chief: North Korea restarted plutonium reactor

US spy chief: North Korea restarted plutonium reactor
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North Korea has restarted its plutonium nuclear reactor and could be recovering spent fuel in the coming weeks, the United States's spy chief said on Tuesday.

“We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the plutonium production reactor,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement prepared ahead of his appearance at two hearings on Capitol Hill.

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“We further assess that North Korea has been operating the reactor long enough so that it could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel within a matter of weeks to months.”

The plutonium reactor was previously shut down in 2007

Clapper’s comments come after Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket this weekend, which the U.S. and other nations condemned as a violation of international ballistic missile sanctions. The hermit Asian nation described the event as a satellite launch.

North Korea is “committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States,” Clapper said in prepared testimony. “We assess that North Korea has already taken initial steps toward fielding this system, although the system has not been flight-tested.”

Last month, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear weapons test. Though it claimed the event was the detonation of a hydrogen bomb, the U.S. has viewed that claim skeptically.

Still, Pyongyang remains a volatile nuclear state, Clapper said on Tuesday, whose motives remain unclear.

“Although North Korea issues official statements that include its justification for building nuclear weapons and threats to use them as a defensive or retaliatory measure, we do not know the details of Pyongyang’s nuclear doctrine or employment concepts,” Clapper said. “We have long assessed that Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy.”

On Tuesday, Clapper is appearing before both the Senate Armed Services and the Intelligence committees.