Relations between North and South Korea have been strained even further by Pyongyang’s
announcement that its Yongbyon nuclear reactor is once more fully operational.
“All the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon [Nuclear Scientiﬁc Research Centre], including the uranium enrichment plant and ﬁve megawatt reactor were rearranged, changed or readjusted and they started normal operation,” the director of the Atomic Energy Institute (AEI) told the North’s Korean Central News Agency on Tuesday.
The Yongbyon reactor, widely regarded as the country’s principal source of weapons-grade
plutonium and capable of producing up to 6 kilograms of the radioactive element per year, was supposedly shut down in 2007 under a six-nation aid-for-disarmament accord. However, satellite imagery analysis conducted after Pyongyang’s last nuclear test in 2013 showed that work on the site was being continued, despite the embargo.
The AEI director said scientists have been working on improving both the “quality and quantity” of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, which would be used without hesitation against the United States and other western aggressors. “If the US and other hostile forces persistently seek their reckless hostile policy … [North Korea] is fully ready to cope with them with nuclear weapons any time,” he said.
This announcement came after Pyongyang hinted on Monday that it might be preparing to launch satellites mounted on long-range rockets to commemorate the regime’s 70th anniversary on October 10. Widely viewed as a test of its long-range missile technology, the prospective launches have sparked criticism from the South. “Any launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea is a serious act of provocation,” South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said at a press brieﬁng. “It is a military threat and a clear violation of the UN resolutions banning (North Korea) from any activities using ballistic missile technology.”
In response, North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration director defended his country’s sovereign right to pursue space development for peaceful purposes. North Korea spent decades attempting to reach space with a multi-stage rocket until it ﬁnally succeeded in launching its ﬁrst native satellite in 2012.