UK & World News
North Korea Nuclear Reactor 'Restarted'
A recent satellite image appears to show North Korea has restarted a plutonium reactor, a US research institute has said.
The five megawatt reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear facility was shuttered in 2007 under the terms of a disarmament agreement.
North Korea announced plans in April to restart it amid a litany of threats toward the US and South Korea over nuclear and rocket tests.
But it has since toned down its rhetoric and stepped up diplomacy with rival South Korea.
Published on the website of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies, 38 North, the image shows white steam rising from a building next to the reactor.
The colour and volume of the steam is consistent with the electrical generating system being readied to come online, indicating that the reactor is in or nearing operation, the institute says.
The reactor can be used to generate electricity and produce material for nuclear weapons - around 6kg of plutonium a year or enough for one or two bombs.
Joel Wit, a former State Department official and editor of 38 North, said: "The reactor restart fits a pattern of continued expansion of North Korea's WMD programmes short of conducting outright nuclear and missile tests.
"An operating reactor will enable Pyongyang to renew the production of plutonium, albeit on a small scale, that will enable it to slowly expand its stockpile of nuclear bombs."
The development could intensify pressure on Washington to restart international aid-for-disarmament negotiations with Pyongyang, which have been stalled since 2009.
The US demands North Korea first recommit to past agreements on denuclearisation, while Pyongyang insists that it be recognised in disarmament negotiations as a nuclear power.
North Korea could also be doubling the size of its uranium enrichment plant and expanding its main rocket launch site on the west coast near China.
It has conducted three underground nuclear test explosions since 2006. The latest, in February 2013, triggered tightened sanctions by the UN Security Council.