Satellite imagery signals resumption of work on North Korea nuclear reactor

Satellite imagery signals resumption of work on North Korea nuclear reactor
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New satellite images of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor indicate that the site has resumed work.

In a satellite photo from Planet Labs and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies obtained by NBC News, a discharge of cooling water is seen flowing out of the reactor into a channel that leads to the Kuryong River in Yongbyon.

Separate commercial satellite imagery of the Yongbyon site taken on Wednesday and published by 38 North also shows a discharge of cooling water into a new outflow channel that leads to the Kuryong. The outlet said the discharge of cooling water has historically been a central indicator of operations at reactors.

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It noted, however, that no steam was observed to be coming from the generator building, which was seen in past intervals when the reactor was functioning.

The new satellite photos bolster information in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) annual report, dated Friday, which said there have been “indications” at the Yongbyon Experimental Nuclear Power Plant that are “consistent with the operation of the reactor,” including the discharge of cooling water.

The agency said those indications have been seen since early July. Before then, it did not observe any indications that the reactor was operating from early December 2018 to the beginning of last month.

The reactor produces plutonium, one of the two components used to make nuclear weapons, according to The Associated Press. The other crucial ingredient is highly enriched uranium.

The IAEA report also said the radiochemical laboratory at the Yongbyon site was operating from mid-February up until early July.

The agency said North Korea’s nuclear activities “continue to be a cause for serious concern” and are “a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

The IAEA has not been able to access the Yongbyon site or other nuclear facilities in North Korea since inspectors were forced out in 2009. Since then, it has been gathering information using high-resolution commercial satellite images, both optical and radar.

The satellite images that bolster the IAEA’s claims come amid a stalemate in nuclear talks between North Korea and the U.S.

President BidenJoe BidenHouse passes 8B defense policy bill House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale MORE's special envoy to North Korea called on the country to rejoin the U.S. at the negotiating table to engage in nuclear discussions last week, but the North has said it will not restart conversations until international sanctions are lifted.