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North Korea Is Back Producing Plutonium

Yongbyon reactor could yield 13 pounds per year
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 8, 2016 12:06 PM CDT
North Korea Is Back Producing Plutonium
Workers operate equipment at North Korea's main nuclear reactor in Yongbyon in 2008.   (AP Photo/AP Video, File)

(Newser) – North Korea is showing no signs of abandoning its quest for nuclear weapons. A State Department official tells Reuters the country has restarted a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor at its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon to get plutonium. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday there were "indications" that was the case. "They take the spent fuel … let it cool and then take it to the reprocessing facility, and that's where they've obtained the plutonium for their previous nuclear tests. So they are repeating that process," the official says. Experts believe the reactor could produce up to 13 pounds of plutonium per year. Last month, South Korea's defense minister estimated the North had 88 pounds, which could supply eight to 10 bombs.

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Meanwhile, Curtis Melvin, an expert on North Korean geography at Johns Hopkins University, says satellite images show a new special forces driver-training facility near the western border with South Korea, a new railway line between a shipyard and naval base near Wonsan in the east, and new airfields, though some are reportedly for Kim Jong Un's private use, reports the Washington Post. "There is no indication that North Korea is reducing the size of its conventional armed forces" while focusing on nuclear weapons, one expert says. "I think they're pushing ahead on both fronts." How it can afford to do so is up for debate. South Korea estimates North Korea's economy is growing at 1% to 2% per year and "there's no way they can be doing all of this on 1% growth," Melvin says. (Read more North Korea stories.)

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