Satellite imagery shows ongoing work in N. Korean nuclear complex: 38 North

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2018-08-10 17:23 Updated : 2018-08-10 17:23
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A fire picture shows the explosion of a cooling tower in North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex on June 27, 2008. [Yonhapo News Phot]

SEOUL -- Satellite imagery indicates ongoing work on the secondary cooling system for a graphite-moderated reactor used to extract weapons-grade plutonium at North Korea's main nuclear complex, but the reactor is probably not operating, according to 38 North, the website of a U.S. research institute.

The nuclear complex in Yongbyon has been at the center of attention since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to push for denuclearization at talks with U.S. and South Korean leaders this year. A five-megawatt reactor in the complex has been used to extract weapons-grade plutonium.

Satellite imagery from July 31 indicates ongoing work on the secondary cooling system for a five-megawatt reactor, which has been used to extract weapons-grade plutonium, 38 North said.

But a low-flow discharge is observed coming from the pre-existing cooling water outfall pipe, indicating the reactor is most likely not operating but that residual heat from earlier reactor operations is being dumped, it said.

Imagery also indicates continued vehicular traffic in and around the reactor and the experimental light water reactor (ELWR), although there are no observable signs the ELWR has started operations, it said.

Activity around the radiochemical lab where plutonium reprocessing was conducted remains at low levels, according to 38 North, adding it is unclear if testing of a modified cooling system has been completed.

Dredging also continues on the west bank of the nearby Kuryong River, although the purpose of this activity is still unclear, the website said. "Work has started to refurbish the earthen dam forming the reservoir across the Kuryong River, which is most likely intended to provide a more consistent water supply for cooling the reactors, despite otherwise low river levels during dry weather periods."

There are no visible signs that the ELWR has begun operations while vehicles continue to move within and around it and the five-megawatt reactor, 38 North said. "No significant activities are observed at the Uranium Enrichment Plant or the Radioisotope Production Facility where infrastructure improvements were recently completed," it said.