North Korea could soon generate stock of weapons-grade plutonium after successfully restarting a nuclear reactor that was decommissioned under an aid-for-disarmament agreement, claimed United States Intelligence chief James Clapper. He added that the reactor could produce enough plutonium to make nuclear weapons “within weeks.”
North Korea has stayed true to its announcement made back in 2013 about restarting a nuclear reactor and is now capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. The country may be gearing up quickly to build a stockpile of nuclear weapons apart from refining technology of long-range ballistic missiles.
Director of U.S. National Intelligence James Clapper said that after the third nuclear test in 2013, North Korea had announced it intended to “refurbish and restart” facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex. The plans included development of uranium enrichment facility. The country also intended to bring back graphite-moderated plutonium production reactor to life, after it was unceremoniously shut down in 2007 under an aid-for-disarmament agreement. Clapper stated his assessment in a prepared testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding that the country could soon produce enough plutonium to regularly make nuclear weapons,
“We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the plutonium production reactor. We further assess that North Korea has been operating the reactor long enough so that it could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel within a matter of weeks to months. “
Clapper is of the firm opinion that North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs “continue to pose a serious threat to U.S. interests and to the security environment in East Asia in 2016.” He added that the country had continually expanded the size and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces. Moreover, the country remains “committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States,” reported Reuters.
Interestingly, North Korea had intentionally shuttered the Yongbyon reactor in 2007. However, it appears the country quietly began renovating it after its third nuclear test in 2013. Experts believe the nuclear reactor isn’t large. However, once fully operational, it could produce about six kilograms (13 pounds) of highly enriched weapons-grade plutonium per year. This quantity is enough to make a high-yield nuclear weapon, reported Sky News.
America has always remained skeptical of North Korea and insists that the latter’s claims of launching a peaceful earth observation satellite this week was merely a ruse to test long-range ballistic missile technology. While independent agencies have confirmed that North Korea indeed placed a satellite about 500 kilometers above earth, they cautioned that it could take a while to ascertain if the satellite was a “live” one. A dummy satellite placed in low orbit could be an excuse to test long-range rockets, claims the U.S.
Many experts claim North Korea already has about 10 atomic weapons and add that the stockpile grow multifold in near future. U.S. President Barack Obama has already spoken with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well as South Korean President Park Geun-Hye about North Korea, and the trio has agreed on the need for a “strong and united international response to North Korea’s provocations, including through a robust UN Security Council Resolution,” announced the White House.
Besides the nuclear reactor, Clapper stated that North Korea continues to develop cyber-espionage and cyber-attack capabilities, and has sold illegal weapons technology to other states, reported Business Recorder. He also mentioned the country’s intention of developing mobile as well as undersea ballistic missiles,
“Pyongyang continues to produce fissile material and develop a submarine launched ballistic missile. It is also committed to developing a long-range nuclear-armed missile that’s capable of posing a direct threat to the United States, although the system has not been flight tested.”
Despite numerous agencies suggesting North Korea is still far from developing reliable long-range ballistic missile, America has been insisting that the country routinely violates U.N. regulations by conducting nuclear tests.
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