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N. Korea shows signs of preparations for nuclear reprocessing: ISIS

All News 05:01 April 30, 2016

WASHINGTON, April 29 (Yonhap) -- Activity continues at North Korea's nuclear complex that suggests the communist nation is preparing to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to harvest plutonium for nuclear weapons, a U.S. think thank said Friday.

Satellite imagery taken of the North's Yongbyon nuclear complex on April 23 shows three open-bed trucks at the reprocessing facility, while three structures, believed to be nuclear waste disposal tanks, are being covered with soil, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said.

Excavation of the tanks is believed to have started in the fall of 2014, just after the North's main plutonium-producing 5-megawatt reactor stopped full power operation, which had lasted from about August 2013 to June 2014, said the think tank in Washington led by top nuclear expert David Albright.

"This could suggest that North Korea was renovating its nuclear waste disposal facilities at the Radiochemical Laboratory, possibly in anticipation of additional plutonium separation activities from irradiated fuel from the 5-MWe reactor that would generate more high-level nuclear waste," ISIS said.

"Alternatively, the tanks may have required maintenance due to leaks or age," it said.

The reprocessing plant has been a focus of attention since Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in February that the North had restarted its main 5-megawatt nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and has since run it for long enough to harvest plutonium "within a matter of weeks to months."

The graphite-moderated reactor has been the source of weapons-grade plutonium for the communist nation. The small reactor is capable of producing spent fuel rods that, if reprocessed, could give the regime enough plutonium to make one bomb a year.

The reactor has provided Pyongyang with weapons-grade plutonium that the regime used in its first three nuclear tests, in 2006, 2009 and 2013. The North conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, claiming it successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb.

ISIS said in a report earlier this month that the North's reactor could have an estimated 5-7 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium since its 2013 restart, which it said is enough plutonium for one to three nuclear weapons, assuming 2-4 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium per weapon.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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