North Korea said on Tuesday that it intended to restart a nuclear reactor closed in 2007 and hinted it may begin openly enriching weapons-grade uranium at a time of soaring military tensions.
A nuclear energy spokesman said the move would involve “readjusting and restarting” all the facilities at the North’s main Yongbyon nuclear complex, including a uranium enrichment plant and a five megawatt reactor.
The North shut down the Yongbyon reactor in July 2007 under a six-nation aid-for-disarmament accord. The following summer it destroyed the cooling tower.
The reactor was the sole source of plutonium for the North’s atomic weapons programme. The country’s remaining plutonium stockpile is believed to be enough for four to eight bombs.
North Korea revealed it was enriching uranium in Yongbyon in 2010 when it allowed foreign experts to visit the centrifuge facility there.
It insisted at the time that it was solely low-level enrichment for energy purposes.
The mention of “readjustment” by the energy spokesman will fuel concerns that it will be transformed, if indeed it hasn’t been already, into a facility for producing weapons-grade uranium.
Many observers believe the North has been enriching weapons-grade uranium in secret facilities for years, and that the third nuclear test conducted by the North in February was actually of a uranium bomb.