South Korea warned that Kim Jong-un will have its nuclear reactor operational in six months

Satellite image of the Yongbyon nuclear complex, in central North Korea (file/Europa Press/Contact/Airbus DS) (Europa Press/Contact/Airbus DS/)

A light water reactor in North Korea’s main nuclear complex It will probably be formally operational next summer, the defense minister said. South Koreaamid suspicions that the North could use it as a new source of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

Concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program deepened recently when the UN atomic agency and foreign experts said they had detected signs indicating that North Korea had begun operating its light water reactor at the nuclear complex in Yongbyon.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said last week that his agency had observed increased levels of activity in and around the reactor and, since mid-October, a heavy outflow of water from its cooling system. He said the reactor is “cause for concern” because it can produce plutonium, one of two key ingredients used to make nuclear weapons, along with highly enriched uranium.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Friday that Defense Minister Shin Wonsiktold local reporters the previous day that his country had also detected similar cooling system-related activities associated with the reactor last summer.

Shin said the reactor appears to be in the test operation stage and is expected to be officially operational around next summer.

North Korea has long produced weapons-grade plutonium from its well-known 5-megawatt reactor in Yongbyon. The light water reactor would be a additional source of fuel for bombs, and observers say its greater capacity could allow it to produce more plutonium. Yongbyon also has a uranium enrichment facility.

South Korean Defense Minister Shin Wonsik (Han Jong-chan/Yonhap via AP, File)
South Korean Defense Minister Shin Wonsik (Han Jong-chan/Yonhap via AP, File) (Uncredited/)

There are doubts about the operation of the reactor, since light water reactors are the more suitable for electricity generation. Shin noted that no country has used light water reactors to produce weapons-grade plutonium. However, many observers say North Korea could retrofit one at Yongbyon to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

“(North Korea’s) commissioning of a new light water nuclear power plant raises serious concerns, including safety,” the agency said. United States Mission to the UN in Vienna in a message posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “(North Korea’s) illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs continue to pose a serious threat to international peace and security.”

Grossi also noted that North Korea’s operation of the light water reactor violates UN Security Council resolutions.

The IAEA and foreign governments depend on satellite images and other methods to monitor activities at Yongyon and other suspected nuclear facilities in North Korea. North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors from the country in 2009.

Outside estimates of the size of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal vary, from 20 to 60 to more than 100. Experts say North Korea may add six to 18 bombs each year. Since his diplomacy with the United States collapsed in 2019, the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un He has repeatedly promised to build more nuclear weapons and introduce high-tech weapons to deal with what he calls an escalation of American hostility.

Foreign experts say Kim would ultimately hope to use his expanded nuclear arsenal to gain sanctions relief from the United States when diplomacy resumes. In response to North Korea’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile test last week, the United States, South Korea and Japan urged other countries to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions that have imposed punitive sanctions on Korea. of the North for its previous tests of banned weapons.

(With information from AP)