China’s Shocking Move: How Xi Jinping Blocks North Korea’s Nuclear Tests
Amid signs that North Korea has test-run a light-water reactor (LWR) at its Yongbyon nuclear facility, claims have emerged that China is preventing North Korea from conducting nuclear tests.
The Times, a British newspaper, reported on the 28th (local time) that North Korea had not conducted a seventh nuclear test due to pressure from President Xi Jinping, the most influential figure for Kim Jong Un. The paper stated that China, which has the power to close borders, has drawn a line that North Korea cannot cross for the time being, effectively blocking further nuclear tests by North Korea.
However, some experts argue that North Korea’s exposure to the operation of the Yongbyon experimental light-water reactor is a move conscious of next year’s U.S. elections, and depending on the situation, the possibility of a seventh nuclear test cannot be ruled out.
If a seventh nuclear test is conducted, it is suggested that it might be a test of miniaturized tactical nuclear weapons. North Korea has already unveiled a tactical nuclear warhead Volcano-31, which is estimated to have a diameter of 40-50mm (approximately 1.6-2 inches).
Accordingly, it is known that the U.S. and South Korean authorities are monitoring the trends of North Korea’s nuclear facilities based on cooperation between the two countries. Although there is no immediate trend to conduct additional nuclear tests, the variability may increase depending on changes in the situation around the Korean Peninsula.
Meanwhile, on the 21st, Rafael Grossi, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), stated that there are signs of a test run, such as hot water flowing near the Yongbyon nuclear facility’s experimental light-water reactor.
The power generation capacity of this reactor has been estimated to be 30MW. North Korea has been pushing for constructing an experimental light-water reactor in Yongbyon since around 2010. Still, its progress has been significantly delayed, and experts report that it has only recently approached operation.
If this experimental light-water reactor is fully operational, it is expected to be able to produce additional plutonium in addition to the 5MW graphite-moderated reactor currently operating in Yongbyon. This experimental reactor is evaluated to have a plutonium production capability at least several times that of the 5MW graphite-moderated reactor.
Olli Heinonen, a specialist at the Stimson Center and former Deputy Director-General of the IAEA, recently informed Voice of America (VOA) that if North Korea resumes operations at the Yongbyon light-water reactor, it could, in theory, generate approximately 15-20kg of plutonium annually. He further noted that this amount represents a capacity to produce three to four times more plutonium than the existing 5MW reactor can achieve.
In addition to the plutonium production facility in Yongbyon, North Korea is also known to be operating a highly enriched uranium (HEU) facility and producing tritium, a raw material for hydrogen bombs.
By. Soo Min Hwang