Experts Warn of North Korean Progress on New Reactor

By Sang-Hun, Choe | International Herald Tribune, August 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Experts Warn of North Korean Progress on New Reactor


Sang-Hun, Choe, International Herald Tribune


The light-water reactor under construction, and North Korea's efforts to enrich uranium, could provide the country with a means to increase its nuclear arsenal significantly, experts warn.

While the region's attention has remained focused on whether the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, can consolidate his power, his country has been making significant progress in the construction of a new reactor widely seen as a cover for making more fuel for nuclear weapons, analysts say, citing satellite imagery of the building site.

The analysts have released their assessments this month, with the latest one coming Tuesday from an expert at IHS Jane's Defense Weekly.

The experimental light-water reactor under construction -- and North Korea's efforts to enrich uranium -- could eventually provide the country with a means to increase its nuclear stockpile significantly, experts have warned.

After its negotiations with the United States collapsed in 2009, North Korea announced that it would build an indigenously designed light-water reactor as a pilot project for a nuclear power industry, and that it would also enrich uranium to fuel that reactor. The government unveiled in 2010 a centrifuge plant for enrichment in Yongbyon, its main nuclear complex. But experts say North Korea may also use the plant to produce highly enriched uranium, a type of fuel for nuclear bombs.

The reactor under construction in Yongbyon could be designed to allow engineers to turn its spent fuel into plutonium, another fuel for nuclear arms.

Allison Puccioni, a satellite image analyst at IHS Jane's Defense Weekly, said Tuesday that North Korea had completed a major step in the construction by placing a 21-meter, or almost 70-foot, dome on the reactor building. She based her conclusion on images taken by the GeoEye-1 satellite on Aug. …

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