After reviewing satellite images of North Korea, analysts believe the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon may have been reactivated, along with a uranium centrifuge facility.
The report comes from David Albright and Serena Kelleher Vergantini of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington (whose acronym, unfortunately, works out to “ISIS.”) They reviewed satellite images from January through April, discovering patterns of melted snow that suggest the interior of the reactor complex is hot, and may be discharging heated water. Steam is also apparently rising from the turbine.
Previous satellite intelligence suggested the reactor had been shut down for at least a year. The BBC recalls that the facility was officially shut down in 2007, but restarted in 2013.
“The latest ISIS analysis comes at a time of rising concern about North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities,” notes Reuters, citing a warning from Chinese nuclear experts that the North Koreans might be able to double their twenty-warhead stockpile within a year, and the U.S. military’s suspicions that they might be able to engineer warheads small enough for long-range ballistic missiles.
Reuters points out that “North Korea is under an array of international sanctions for nuclear bomb and ballistic missile tests,” while the BBC reminds us that “six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear program have been stalled since early 2009.”
North Korean despot Kim Jong-Un generally does something to draw attention back to his country when he feels some other global supervillain has been hogging the spotlight for too long, and Iran has held the center stage for a while now.
In a possibly related story, Kim abruptly canceled plans to visit Moscow for a World War II anniversary celebration. It would have been his first official foreign trip since inheriting the dictatorship, at the invitation of Vladimir Putin, who planned to meet with Kim during his visit. 2015 is supposed to be an officially-recognized “year of friendship” between North Korea and Russia. According to the Russians, Kim decided to cancel his visit due to “North Korea’s internal affairs.” Some of those affairs might involve suspicious patches of melted snow.