WASHINGTON (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Satellite images showed a high level of activity at North Korea’s main nuclear site.
The Washington-based North North Korea Monitoring Project 38 said the activity it had detected, based on images taken on March 3 and 17, could indicate that an Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) at the Yongbyon site was being completed and transitioned into operational status.
The report said images show a 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon continued to operate and construction of a support building around the ELWR has begun. In addition, water discharges from that reactor’s cooling system had been detected. New construction had also begun around the Yongbyon uranium enrichment plant, likely to expand its capacity.
“These developments appear to reflect Kim Jong Un’s recent directive to increase the country’s production of fissile material to expand its arsenal of nuclear weapons,” the report added, referring to the North Korean leader.
North Korea on Tuesday unveiled new smaller nuclear warheads and vowed to produce more nuclear material to expand its arsenal, while denouncing escalating military exercises by South Korea and the United States.
His state media said Kim had ordered the production of weapons materials in a “foresighted way” to “exponentially” increase the country’s nuclear arsenal.
It’s unclear whether North Korea has fully developed the miniaturized nuclear warheads needed to fit the smaller weapons it has displayed, and analysts say perfecting those warheads would most likely be a key goal if it resumes nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.
South Korea and the United States have warned since early 2022 that North Korea could resume nuclear tests at any time.
In a report last year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimated that North Korea had assembled up to 20 nuclear warheads and probably possessed enough fissile material for about 45-55 nuclear devices.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, editing by Franklin Paul)