The Biden administration has been engulfed in various crises around the world, which has apparently inspired North Korea to resume firing up its nuclear reactors, which are capable of producing the material necessary for nuclear weapons.
Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report that provided detail regarding an experimental nuclear power plant, along with a radiochemical laboratory, that were seen in Yongbyon, which is located approximately 65 miles north of Pyongang. This center shows signs of reactivation after a dormant period.
According to the watchdog report, this site had “not indications of reactor operation from early December 2018 to the beginning of July 2021.”
However, since the early weeks of July 2021, several indications, “including the discharge of cooling water,” are “consistent with the operation of the reactor,” signaling renewed activity on North Korea’s end.
North Korea presumably discontinued its nuclear activity in 2018 after Kim Jong-un met with Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018 to discuss denuclearization. However, after observing the Biden administration throughout 2021, Jong-un apparently feels emboldened to resume nuclear activities again.
The IAEA report noted that the steam plant serving the Radiochemical Laboratory had operated from mid-February 2021 to early July 2021, or a period of roughly five months.
“The duration of the operation of the steam plant and Radiochemical Laboratory in 2021 is significantly longer than that observed in the past during possible waste treatment or maintenance activities,” the report added.
The five months of activity also correspond “with the [amount of time] required to reprocess a complete core of irradiated fuel from the … reactor,” the IAEA added.
Previously, the spent fuel rods originating from the Yongbyon reactor had been used to create fissile material for the nuclear weapons program, which is located at a nearby radiochemical laboratory. These activities persisted in spite of the regime’s claim that they constituted little more than harmless training exercises.
As reported by the BBC, the Yongbyon facility is the major site for the nuclear program in North Korea. This facility is an enormous campus dedicated to military missions, and its construction commenced in 1961, once North Korea secured nuclear agreements with the Soviet Union.
The Yongbyon facility can be considered a plutonium processing facility that has been used to transform spent fuel rods into weapons-useable material. While North Korea claimed that the IAEA was merely training nuclear scientists, the IAEA ultimately concluded that the facility was really created for reprocessing.
The government of North Korea does not permit IAEA investigators to visit the site, which is why the watchdog report is largely based on information that can be gathered from satellites and other forms of open source information.
Without appropriate access, the IAEA “cannot confirm either the operational status,” nor can it attest to “the nature and purpose of the activities conducted therein.”
The nuclear activities in North Korea remain “a cause for serious concern,” especially given the “new indicators” in Yongbyon, which “are deeply troubling.” In addition, the deliberate continuation of North Korea’s nuclear program constitute a major violation of relevant resolutions with the UN Security Council, which “is deeply regrettable.”
On his part, Biden continues to struggle with the massive crisis his administration has endured in Afghanistan, though he has also demonstrated general subservience to Russia and China since taking office. Consequently, it is unsurprising that North Korea has opted to take advantage of the situation in order to resume its nuclear ambitions, threatening world security.