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North Korea may be restarting a nuclear reactor, U.S. institute says

September 12, 2013|By Jung-yoon Choi
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, fourth from right, accompanied by senior officials, inspects a parade of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, fourth from right, accompanied by senior… (Korean Central News Agency…)

SEOUL — U.S. and South Korean officials said Thursday that they are closely watching North Korea after a research institute report indicating that the government in Pyongyang may be restarting a nuclear reactor.

Officials said that any move by North Korea involving the restart of a nuclear reactor would be a violation of commitments the isolated nation made as part of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The United States remains "very concerned overall about North Korea's continued pursuit of a nuclear program," said Pentagon Press Secretary George Little. " We need to keep a close watch on the North Korean nuclear program and continue to call for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

South Korean officials said they could not immediately confirm reports of the possible restart of the Yongbyon nuclear facility's five-megawatt reactor, which reportedly is capable of producing about 13 pounds of plutonium a year.

"The government is taking a close look at the relevant moves," said Cho Tai-young, Seoul's Foreign Ministry spokesman.

The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University reported Wednesday that North Korea appeared to be restarting a reactor based on commercial satellite photos taken Aug. 31.

According to the report, white steam was spotted "rising from a building near the reactor hall that houses the gas-graphite reactor's steam turbines and electric generators." The activity seems to indicate "the reactor is in or nearing operation," the report said.

In April, Pyongyang had announced on the state-run Korean Central News Agency that it would restart the uranium enrichment plant and a reactor in the Yongbyon complex.

North Korea had been escalating the level of threats this year, after December's long-range-rocket launch. Pyongyang also conducted a banned nuclear test, which was its third, in February. Such actions led to escalated tensions on and around the Korean peninsula.

Recently, however, there was an easing of tensions with North and South Korea agreeing to fully reopen the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial complex, a joint business park and a symbol of the peace effort between the two Koreas. The nations also agreed to hold reunions of families separated by the Korean War on Sept. 25, after the Korean Thanksgiving holiday.

Park Syung-je, a North Korea expert and chair of the Asia Strategy Institute, said that with the apparent activity in Yongbyon, North Korea seems to be expressing its strong will to continue nuclear development.

"The related countries will join hands in sending warning messages to North Korea," Park said, "that they would suffer a serious loss if they were to carry out the fourth nuclear test."

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Choi is a special correspondent.

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