North Korea on Tuesday announced plans to restart its main atomic complex in order to ease electricity problems and strengthen its ability to develop nuclear weapons. The news will no doubt increase tensions in the region.
The Yongbyon reactor was closed in 2007 as part of international nuclear disarmament talks that have since faltered.
U.N. Secretary-General and former South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that North Korea had “gone too far” on a path that could lead to war with other nations.
“Nuclear threats are not a game. Aggressive rhetoric and military posturing only result in counter-actions, and fuel fear and instability,” he said during a visit to Andorra. “Things must calm down as this situation, made worse by the lack of communication, could lead down a path that nobody should want to follow.”
“I am convinced that nobody intends to attack [North Korea] … however, I am afraid that others will respond firmly to any direct military provocation.”
China, North Korea’s only major ally, called plans to bring the complex back online “regrettable,” while Japan said they prompted “grave concern.”
The Yongbyon reactor went online in 1986. The country began building two more reactors in 1984, but their construction was stopped in accord with a 1994 nuclear deal with Washington.
North Korea has long insisted its reactor operation is aimed at generating electricity. Roughly 8,000 fuel rods are required to run the reactor. Reprocessing the used rods after a year of operation could produce about 7kg of plutonium, enough to make at least one atomic bomb, experts say.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
The Yongbyon announcement comes amid rising tensions prompted by repeated warnings from the North that it is on a war footing with South Korea. The regime has also threatened nuclear strikes against the US mainland and its overseas military bases, although experts are convinced it is still several years away from developing the necessary technology.
After weeks of verbal provocations North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, appeared to lower the diplomatic temperature over the weekend, saying the state’s nuclear arsenal was strictly a deterrent. Days earlier he had been photographed seated in front of a map showing US targets for an envisioned nuclear strike.
“Our nuclear strength is a reliable war deterrent and a guarantee to protect our sovereignty,” Kim said in comments made on Sunday but released in full by the official KCNA news agency on Tuesday. “It is on the basis of a strong nuclear strength that peace and prosperity can exist and so can the happiness of people’s lives.”
born1945 (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The main reactor of the Yongbyon nuclear facility seen from the air.