North Korea appears to have restarted a plutonium-producing reprocessing reactor, which the International Atomic Energy Agency warned could be a troubling sign Pyongyang is expanding its nuclear weapons program.
Work on the five-megawatt reactor at North Korea’s complex at Yongbyon comes with nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington at a standstill.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had offered to dismantle part of the Yongbyon complex at a second summit with then US president Donald Trump in exchange for sanctions relief, but his offer was rejected.
North Korea is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which have seen rapid progress under Kim.
“Since early July there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor,” the IAEA said.
Agency inspectors were kicked out of North Korea in 2009, and the IAEA has since monitored it from outside.
Possible operation of the reactor follows a recent indication that Pyongyang is using a nearby radio-chemical laboratory to separate plutonium from spent fuel previously removed from the reactor.
The reactor and laboratory operations were “deeply troubling” and appeared to be a “clear violation” of UN resolutions, the IAEA said.
A US State Department official said Washington was aware of the situation and was coordinating with allies, adding: “This underscores the urgent need for dialogue on denuclearization.”