North Korea Satellite Images Raise New Nuclear Fears

north korea satellite images raise new nuclear fears

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks with army personnel on May 10 during a test-firing of an upgraded rocket launcher system. State media said the country's artillery capabilities are getting a significant boost.

New satellite images suggest North Korea is producing plutonium and uranium, a report says.

The images, captured by the commercial imaging company Maxar and published by the Daily NK, show significant activity taking place at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, a uranium enrichment plant in North Pyongan Province that the U.S. has tried to shut down by exerting pressure on Pyongyang through economic sanctions.

High-resolution and thermal infrared imagery from May 14 indicates that coolant, which is circulated through a nuclear reactor to remove or transfer heat, is being discharged into the Kuryong River surrounding the facility, the Daily NK reported.

It is the 11th time coolant discharge has been detected this year, the outlet said.

Thermal infrared images also show high energy releases from the radiochemical laboratory and uranium enrichment facility, suggesting these sites are operational.

Thermal infrared imagery from NASA's Landsat 8 satellite supports these findings, showing temperature distributions at Yongbyon ranging from 13 to 28 degrees Celsius. Higher temperatures at the radiochemical laboratory and uranium enrichment facility suggest these sites are processing spent fuel rods into plutonium and producing highly enriched uranium.

In September 2021, satellite imagery, also taken by Maxar, showed North Korea was expanding the Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Jeffrey Lewis, a weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told CNN at the time that the expansion could allow North Korea to increase production of weapons-grade nuclear material by as much as 25 percent.

"The most recent expansion at Yongbyon probably reflects plans to increase production of nuclear materials for weapons production," Lewis said, adding that the construction was consistent with previous efforts to increase floor space at the facility, allowing it to house more centrifuges and thus enrich more uranium on a yearly basis.

A month before, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' atomic watchdog, released a report that said it had detected "deeply troubling" signs that North Korea had restarted the nuclear reactor it is believed to have previously used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

"The continuation of the DPRK's nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable," the agency said.

In 2019, North Korea proposed shutting down part of the Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for the lifting of all U.N. sanctions except those directly targeting its weapons of mass destruction programs. Ultimately, no agreement was reached.

The most recent activities at the complex coincide with North Korea's ongoing missile tests and vertical engine trials at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has stressed the need to increase nuclear production to strengthen the country's arsenal.

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