An unnamed U.S. official has confirmed to Reuters that evidence indicates North Korea has begun to once again produce plutonium fuel, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons.
North Korea’s communist government appears to be reprocessing plutonium that has spent its radioactive energy in use at the Yongbyon nuclear facility. The rehabilitation process makes it possible to use the plutonium in a nuclear bomb.
“They take the spent fuel from the 5 megawatt reactor at Yongbyon and let it cool and then take it to the reprocessing facility, and that’s where they’ve obtained the plutonium for their previous nuclear tests. So they are repeating that process,” the unnamed official told Reuters. The news organization was unable to confirm how officials know that this activity has begun once again — whether they have sources on the ground or are using satellite images of the facility. The official noted poignantly that “everything in North Korea is a cause for concern.”
This report follows rumblings from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that North Korea may be looking to continue developing their nuclear weapons arsenal. In a stern statement, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano condemned North Korea this week for showing “no indication that it is willing to comply with the Security Council resolution adopted in response to its nuclear test earlier this year.”
“I call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations under relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the agency in implementing its NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) Safeguards Agreement, and to resolve all outstanding issues,” he added.
The U.S. Department of State and the governments of South Korea and China have all expressed extreme concern over the possibility of North Korea staging yet another nuclear test, like the alleged hydrogen bomb test they executed in January (few experts believe the North Korean reports that the bomb was, in fact, a full fusion bomb).
“We have been very clear that we view North Korea’s rhetoric and actions with great concern. We continue to pursue action with our regional and international partners, as well as international bodies,” State Department spokesman Ory Abramowicz told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
“We call on North Korea to refrain from actions and rhetoric that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments.”
South Korea’s unification ministry, meanwhile, repeated its assertion that South Korea is not seeking dialogue with the north if there is no indication of a desire to deescalate tensions. “North Korea’s nuclear weapons program poses a threat to South Korea’s security and also serves as the biggest stumbling block to an improvement in inter-Korean ties and peaceful unification,” vice unification minister Kim Hyung-suk said.
China’s feelings towards North Korean nuclear development appear in their most recent iteration through Kim Hong-kyun, South Korea’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs. Kim told reporters following a meeting with Chinese official Wu Dawei that Wu expressed “its strong opposition to North Korea’s additional provocations, including more nuclear and missile tests” to a North Korean representative visiting Beijing last week.
The North Korean government has been attempting to get South Korea to discuss reunification in talks in the past month, changing its strategy abruptly from consistent threats to drop a nuclear weapon on Seoul. On Wednesday, the communist propaganda newspaper Rodong Sinmun published a column claiming that Pyongyang had “laid aside all the inglorious things that happened up to date by displaying patience and tolerance and appealed to the south Korean authorities to break the deadlock between the north and south through dialogue and negotiations.” North Korea is seeking reunification of the Koreas under the dictatorship of Kim Jong-un.
North Korean propaganda writers have also come out this week in defense of the need Pyongyang claims to have to produce nuclear weapons. “We retain nuclear weapons by strategic choice, to not use them on temporary impulse, but to protect our security and dignity, for peace and justice,” a government editorial read.
The propaganda appears to be intended not just for South Korean officials, but the United States. Earlier this month, North Korean state TV broadcast interviews with two ethnic white Americans born and raised in North Korea, the sons of a Korean War defector. The men implored the United States to seek peaceful relations with North Korea, by which they meant ignoring North Korea’s illegal nuclear program and rampant human rights abuses.