- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A recent satellite image indicates that North Korea may be restarting a plutonium reactor, a U.S. research institute said Wednesday.

The 5 megawatt reactor at the Nyongbyon nuclear complex was shut down in 2007 under a six-party agreement, but findings by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies show it many be a sign that Kim Jong Un is pressing ahead with developing nukes, the Associated Press reported.

The secrecy of the facility makes it difficult to say for certain that the reactor has restarted, but the institute said an Aug. 31 commercial satellite image showed white steam rising from a building next to the reactor.

“The building houses steam turbines and electric generators that are driven by heat generated by the reactor. The color 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,” AP reported.

There was no immediate comment from the State Department Wednesday on the new report, AP said. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said it could not confirm the report, “because it involves confidential intelligence,” AP said.

The report explains that the reactor could be used to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. If it is indeed back online, N. Korea could produce an extra 6 kilograms of plutonium a year — enough for one or two bombs. Experts estimate North Korea already has enough plutonium for between four to eight crude weapons, AP said.

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