North Korea Resumes Work on Nuclear Reactor

May 18, 2012 Updated: May 20, 2012

Satellite images show that North Korea has resumed working on its experimental light water reactor that could enable it to produce materials for nuclear weapons, the website 38North said Thursday.

The images are dated April 30 and were analyzed by the website, which is run by U.S. State Department official Joel Wit and the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

Pyongyang is now close to completion of the reactor containment building,” the website states.

“The next major step in construction will be loading the heavy components, such as the pressure vessel, steam generator, and pressurizer, likely through the cylindrical opening in the roof of the reactor containment building,” which could take between 6 and 12 months to complete, 38North said.

It added that it could potentially take another one or two years before North Korea’s facility, which Pyongyang claims is intended to deal with energy shortages, becomes operational. The website also points out that the reactor is an important step to building nuclear weapons.

The light water reactor, which North Korea says is a prototype for future reactors, and a uranium enrichment facility in Yongbyon are indicators “of the North’s intention to move forward with the expansion of its nuclear weapons stockpile in the future,” 38North said.

“The uranium enrichment program is intended to produce fuel for the reactor and fissile material for its nuclear weapons,” the website states.

North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003, and this February agreed with the United States that it would suspend nuclear testing and the firing of long-range rockets. Pyongyang, however, tested a long-range rocket last month that it claimed would send a satellite into orbit, an event that was condemned by the international community.

Pyongyang conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, both taking place only a few months after it test-fired rockets.

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