Foreign Ministry Monitors N. Korea’s Nuclear Facility Trends: Should We Worry?
North Korea’s Completed Light Water Reactor
South Korean and U.S. Officials Worry About North Korea’s Recent Move
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently revealed that North Korea has completed an experimental light water reactor (LWR) within the Yongbyon nuclear complex for the first time in over a decade. This raised huge concerns among South Korean and U.S. officials. The operation of North Korea’s LWR could significantly increase the production of plutonium, a nuclear weapon material, thereby supporting the country’s publicly declared nuclear armament capabilities.
On the 25th, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “The government is closely monitoring the trends of North Korean nuclear facilities based on close cooperation between South Korea and the U.S.” and “We are also paying attention to the IAEA Director General’s remarks on the situation of the LWR test operation on the 21st.” The U.S. State Department also expressed “serious concerns, including safety,” and pointed out that “North Korea’s illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose a serious threat to international peace and security.”
Rafael Grossi, the IAEA Director General, announced at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, Austria, on the 21st (local time), “We have observed hot water discharge from the cooling system of North Korea’s experimental LWR since mid-October,” indicating that this supports the test operation of the LWR.
Potential for Increased Plutonium Production
Implications for Safety and Radioactive Material Leakage
North Korea has been known to have been building an experimental LWR in Yongbyon since around 2010. Suppose North Korea starts operating the experimental LWR in full swing. In that case, it will secure an additional means to produce plutonium in addition to the 5 MW graphite-moderated reactor currently operating in Yongbyon. Plutonium, a nuclear weapon material, is produced by burning nuclear fuel in a reactor, creating spent fuel rods, and extracting it through reprocessing.
Authorities and experts say that the experimental LWR is expected to have a plutonium production capacity several times greater than the 5 MW graphite-moderated reactor. They continuously track the production capacity and current status of the Yongbyon experimental LWR. The possibility of radioactive material leakage from nuclear facilities, including the experimental LWR, which could threaten the safety of North Korean residents and neighboring countries, is also a concern.
Meanwhile, North Korea plans to hold a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party this week to present its policy direction for the new year. Attention is centered on Kim Jong Un’s message at this meeting, known as North Korea’s key policy decision-making body, focusing on the ‘strength against strength’ principle targeting the U.S.
By. Kyung Hun Park