According to the findings and observations of a U.S. think tank, Pyongyang may have reprocessed more plutonium than previously thought that can be used to enlarge its nuclear weapons stockpile which has been revealed by thermal images of North Korea’s main nuclear site.
Amid rising international concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, starting from September until the end of June, satellite images of the radiochemical laboratory at the Yongbyon nuclear plant were taken and this formed the basis of the analysis by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korean monitoring project.
Operation of centrifuges that could be used to increase North Korea’s stock of enriched uranium, its other source of bomb fuel, could also be indicated by images of the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon, the think tank said.
38 North said that a cause of concern could also be images that tend to show signs of at least short-term activity at North Korea’s Experimental Light Water Reactor.
Aimed at producing “an undetermined amount of plutonium that can further increase North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile, the images of the radiochemical laboratory showed there had been at least two reprocessing cycles not previously known. This can be something that would worry U.S. officials who see Pyongyang as one of the world’s top security threats.
However, whether centrifuge operations or maintenance was the cause of the thermal activity detected at the uranium plant is not very clear.
The Fact that the facility was not producing tritium, an essential isotope used in boosted yield and hydrogen weapons, is suggested by the thermal patterns at the plant’s isotope/tritium production facility, the think tank said.
North Korea has tested five nuclear bombs and it manufactures atomic bombs using uranium and plutonium. And despite U.S.-led international efforts to curb its program, it could test a sixth at any time, officials and experts say.
Even though experts have expressed a great degree of skepticism, its penultimate test in January 2016 was that of a hydrogen bomb, Pyongyang has claimed.
Last week, North Korea tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, which experts said could hit all of Alaska and parts of the U.S. Pacific Northwest ad the country has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.
North Korea could have as many as 20 nuclear bombs and could produce one more each month, estimated the experts at 38 North in April.
North Korea had stockpiles of 32 to 54 kg (70 to 119 pounds) of plutonium, enough for six to eight bombs, estimated a report by U.S.-based nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker published by 38 North last September.
(Adapted from CNBC)