North Korea confirmed that it had resumed plutonium production and said it has no plans to stop nuclear tests as long as perceived threats from the US continue.
The North Korean nuclear energy institute reportedly confirmed to Japan’s Kyodo news agency on Wednesday that it has resumed production of enriched uranium by using plutonium extracted from reprocessed fuel rods from the Yongbyon nuclear facility.
“We have reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods removed from a graphite-moderated reactor” the state’s Atomic Energy Insitutue, which runs the main Yongbyon nuclear plants, told Japan’s Kyodo news agency.
The Japan Times report:
In its first-ever response to foreign media questions, the institute also said North Korea has been producing highly enriched uranium necessary for nuclear arms and power “as scheduled.”
The institute, however, stopped short of disclosing the amount of plutonium or enriched uranium North Korea has produced, saying it wants to leave that to the assessments of Western experts.
According to foreign officials and security experts, satellite imagery in recent months indicates there had been some renewed activity at the nuclear complex.
In February, U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper said in a report to Congress that North Korea could recover plutonium, a core material used in making nuclear bombs, from the reactor’s spent fuel within weeks to months.
The comments from the Atomic Energy Institute mark the first clear confirmation by North Korea that it has begun reprocessing since it vowed in 2013 to restart the 5 megawatt reactor and other nuclear facilities at the key complex. The nuclear facilities were shut down under an agreement reached in the six-party talks in 2007.
The resumption of the program means that North Korea will be able to produce more nuclear weapons, although it has been subjected to multiple U.N. sanctions for its tests of atomic and missile technologies.
The research center did not rule out the possibility of conducting a fifth nuclear test and claimed that North Korea has already succeeded in “minimizing, making lighter and diversifying” nuclear weapons.
“Under conditions that the United States constantly threatens us with nuclear weapons, we will not discontinue nuclear tests,” it said.
Earlier this month, in an apparent first, North Korea launched a ballistic missile that fell into waters inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan.
A series of North Korean missile launches and attempted launches since the start of the year have raised concern in Japan, South Korea and the U.S.
Tokyo has ordered the Self-Defense Forces to be ready at any time to shoot down any North Korean missiles that threaten to strike Japan, putting its forces on a state of alert for at least three months, a Defense Ministry official and media was reported as saying on Aug. 8.