North Korea 'to restart Yongbyon nuclear reactor'


Williamson: "Most people believe North Korea does not want all-out war"

North Korea says it will restart all facilities at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, including a reactor mothballed in 2007.

In a statement, it said the move would bolster North Korea's nuclear forces "in quality and quantity".

The move is the latest in a series of measures by Pyongyang in the wake of its third nuclear test in February.

It has been angered by the resultant UN sanctions and joint US-South Korea annual military drills.

In recent weeks the communist state has issued a series of threats against both South Korean and US targets, to which the US has responded with high-profile movements of advanced aircraft and warships around the Korean peninsula.


North Korea's announcement effectively undoes international efforts to constrain its nuclear programme. But restarting the reactor at Yongbyon will take time. Cooling systems have to be re-installed, the reactor fuelled and so on. It could be six months to a year before the reactor is up and running. This will open up a new source of plutonium for North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

Pyongyang's references to its highly-enriched uranium activities are puzzling experts and are less clear. This provides an alternative basis for a nuclear weapon. But nobody knows how many secret enrichment plants North Korea may have or the level to which they may already be enriching nuclear material.

So in many ways its back to square one in terms of nuclear diplomacy. But six years have passed since 2007 and in the intervening period North Korea's missile capabilities - the means by which it might eventually seek to deliver a nuclear warhead - have improved significantly.

A South Korean foreign ministry spokesman said that if true, the North Korean move would be "highly regrettable".

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei called for restraint from all sides to resolve the "complex and sensitive" situation.

'Adjust and alter'

The reactor at Yongbyon - which was the source for plutonium for North Korea's nuclear weapons programme - was closed in July 2007 as part of a disarmament-for-aid deal.

The cooling tower at the facility was later destroyed, but then the disarmament deal stalled.

Part of the reason the agreement fell apart was because the US did not believe Pyongyang was fully disclosing all of its nuclear facilities - a suspicion later bolstered when North Korea unveiled a uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon to US scientist Siegfried Hecker in 2010.

While it appeared to be for electricity generation purposes, Mr Hecker said the facility could be readily converted to produce highly-enriched uranium for bombs.

The statement, carried by KCNA news agency, was attributed to a spokesman for the General Department of Atomic Energy.

Yongbyon nuclear complex

  • North Korea's main nuclear facility; thought to have produced the material for 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests
  • Reactor shut down in July 2007 as part of a disarmament-for-aid deal; Cooling tower dismantled in 2008
  • IAEA inspectors banned in April 2009 when North Korea pulled out of disarmament talks
  • Experts believe that, if re-started, reactor could make one bomb's worth of plutonium per year
  • A uranium enrichment facility was revealed in 2010. An American nuclear scientist said centrifuges appeared to be primarily for civilian nuclear power, but could be converted to produce highly enriched uranium bomb fuel
  • Nuclear test based on uranium device would be harder to monitor than plutonium

The department had decided "to adjust and alter the uses of the existing nuclear facilities" including "readjusting and restarting all the nuclear facilities in Nyongbyon [Yongbyon] including uranium enrichment plant and 5MW graphite moderated reactor".

The work would be put into practice without delay, the statement said. It also attributed the move to the need to generate more electricity.

In a November 2010 report following his visit to Yongbyon, Siegfried Hecker said based on what he saw he believed North Korea could "resume all plutonium operations within approximately six months" at Yongbyon if so inclined.

The reactor can produce spent fuel rods that can be made into plutonium - which experts believe North Korea used for its nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. It is not clear whether plutonium or uranium was used in the February test.

The reference to altering nuclear facilities could suggest that North Korea may begin openly enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels, which would give it a second, faster route to making nuclear weapons, reports the BBC's Lucy Williamson, who is in Seoul.

US warship deployed

Timeline: Korean tensions

  • 12 Dec: North Korea fires three-stage rocket, in move condemned by UN as banned test of long-range missile technology
  • 12 Feb: North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test, its third after tests in 2006 and 2009
  • 11 Mar: US-South Korea annual joint military drills begin
  • 19 Mar: US flies B-52 nuclear-capable bombers over Korean peninsula, following several North Korean threats
  • 27 Mar: North Korea cuts military hotline with South
  • 28 Mar: US flies B-2 stealth bombers over Korean peninsula
  • 30 Mar: North Korea says it is entering a "state of war" with South Korea
  • 2 Apr: North Korea says it is restarting mothballed Yongbyon reactor

In the weeks since the nuclear test, North Korea's rhetoric has escalated - including multiple threats of attacks on US bases in South Korea and Japan, and on South Korean border islands.

But the US, which has in recent days flown B-52 bombers, B-2 stealth planes and F-22 stealth bombers over South Korea in a show of strength, says it is seeing no signs of increased military activity in North Korea.

"Despite the harsh rhetoric we're hearing from Pyongyang, we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture, such as large-scale mobilisations and positioning of forces," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

But he said the US was "monitoring the Korean situation very diligently".

Defence officials told reporters that a US Aegis-class warship capable of defending against missile strikes had also been moved to the south-west coast off South Korea.

This would offer "greater missile defence options should [they] become necessary", an official told Reuters news agency.

Reports also suggest the US is moving a sea-based radar platform called SBX-1 into the western Pacific so that it can monitor North Korea.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    If you are seriously going to war and intend to seek an advantage right off by a surprize attack you do not first go blaring about it from the mountain tops as NK has. All this foolish bravado by the NK leadership is for domestic propaganda to reinforce national unity for the regime by reinventing a foreign aggressor. A perpetual defensive stance silences internal discontent but for how long?

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Those who delude themselves that N. Korea would abandon its nukes if only offered sufficient incentives (multibillion $$$, hundreds of thousands tones of food, etc.) should read a statement by DPRK's Foreign Ministry's that its 'nuclear weapons are not a bargaining chip" and will never be abandoned since they are a "national treasure" [sic].

  • Comment number 233.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    This is all designed to entertain the desktop warriors at home, who love nothing more than hypothesizing about all kinds of scenarios whilst all their knowledge about NK derives from watching Team America and what their confirmation bias allows them to take in from the media, whilst secretly they hope for another televised war to lighten up their otherwise dreary lives. In the real world...

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    @228>>>"American missiles rarely miss their targets"

    So, I guess the thousands of civilians slaughtered in Afghanistan & Pakistan were deliberately targeted by the US military?

    PS: You may be entitled to your own opinion, but not your own punctuation. I'd lose the brackets [you know what I mean].

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Re #229

    You can always move to North Korea.

    If you 're not already posting from there, that is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    >> "Btw. Who on earth would like to take over N. Korean GULAG and feed its prisoners?"

    I dare say the same folks who turn a profit from running the US prison industrial complex would love to get there hands on the Nth Korean ones.

    2.2 million Americans currently in jail. Another 4.9 million on probation or parole. The land of the free!

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    "The only countries the USA can misfire on in that part of the world is China, Russia and Japan."

    American missiles rarely miss their targets. Unlike N. Korean ones
    [cf. their recent tests].

    Here's wondering what will loonies in Pyongyoung do if one of their nuclear-tipped missiles hits not Alaska but Russian Vladivostok, Sakhalin or Kamchatka.

    [I know what Russians would do then]

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    I don't understand why people are still engaging with North Korea. All I see from the west and from South Korea are reactive actions, not proactive actions. South Korea itself should've closed down Kaesong and taken out all the equipment. Now that equipment is left in the North. All lines of communication/aid should be cut off. The North should understand it can't afford to act aggressively.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    "It's understandeable that China & Russia & NK don't like US weapons in SK & that NK is scared of being taken over."

    It's also understandable if China-propped N. Korea continues on its present course S. Korea and Japan will arm themselves with nukes.

    I wonder whether Chinese Politbureau would like that.

    Btw. Who on earth would like to take over N. Korean GULAG and feed its prisoners?

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    2nd April 2013 - 16:18

    "To even contemplate using any weapon is ludicrous and an acknowledgement of man's crass intelligence. Are we just territorial animals ruled by brawn not brains?"

    You seem surprised? Did you not read history when you were at school?

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    With great respect Mr; 163.ImperialWonderBoy.
    You are talking as if you know the Chinese mind personaly?
    China does not control what this 'kid' does at any given moment, any knee jerk reaction from the US would start something not even you reassuring yourself on HYS could stop!

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    anyone for chess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    If the Chinese were flying nuke capability planes along the USA border the US would be screaming 'provocation' and 'acts of aggression' as loud as they could.

    If they do it, then its simply peacetime training.

    They have whole deserts to train in.

    Why antagonise another nation, haven't they done enough harm in the world over the last 15 years?

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    What gives the right for USA to hold Nuclear weapons and threaten others with sanctions and invasion , arrogance I guess. Kim is no more a looney toon than Bush was !

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    This whole war deal that NK has going is nothing but a public stunt to consolidate the power of Kim Jong-u. This is what NK does every time a new South Korean President is elected. Its all war mongering because of two simple facts: 1st it is impossible for NK to win this war. 2nd even a slight development in its nuclear program will be detected by half a dozen different intelligence services.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Sometimes a person's first reaction to various things is not the right one. It's always better to have a measured response, cooler heads so to speak. A more constructive peaceful approach.
    It's understandeable that China & Russia & NK don't like US weapons in SK & that NK is scared of being taken over.
    All coutries involved should talk openly at the U.N. about the concerns on either side.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    Whether it's George W. or Barack Obama, there is no real difference in US foreign policy. Put simply, the US is an extreme right-wing nation highly militarised & convinced of their special place in the universe. It's population is brain-washed by a media determined to create bogeymen that the political elite will protect them from, ensuring public money keeps flowing to their corporate backers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    UN or US sanction can't stop nuclear war, better lift-up the sanction from North Korea as soon as possible and give the Country Right to North Kore, betterment of world peace. Which is also the best self-defense for US and South Korea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Who will be responsible for the World War III needs least guessing. It will be the megalomaniac NK supremo Kim Jong Un. One cannot predict when as Kim is as esoteric as he is unpredictable. What appears NK empty rhetoric may boomerang into an inferno in no time. This is a situation that requires precision handling. Who wins is the least priority.


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