N. Korea puts nuclear reactor to temporary halt ahead of summit

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2018-04-05 09:02 Updated : 2018-04-05 09:02
글씨작게 글씨크게

[Yonhap News Photo]

SEOUL -- North Korea may have temporarily shut down a graphite-moderated reactor used to extract weapons-grade plutonium at its main nuclear complex, not for spent fuel reprocessing but for a major excavation project at the site, 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 hold talks with U.S. and South Korean leaders on denuclearization. Many experts still cast doubt over Kim's sudden peace overture that followed a series of ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests.

The shutdown of a five-megawatt reactor in Yongbyon appears to be temporary, 38 North said, citing the lack of "clearly visible steam plumes" at the generator hall and a large excavation project along the riverbank near the cooling water outfall. "Despite the apparent reactor shutdown, there was no evidence (as of March 30) of plutonium reprocessing taking place at the Radiochemical Laboratory."

The excavation project could indicate an attempt to provide a more steady flow of water and allow the reactor's continuous and safe operation in the future, 38 North said. "While it is still too early to tell the exact purpose of this work, given its location along the river and near the existing outfall, it could be related to the reactor's secondary water-cooling system," it said.

Satellite imagery also showed there is new truck activity at the reactor that could include maintenance or repairs, the movement of spent fuel rods to a reprocessing lab from a storage pond, or the offloading of fresh fuel, 38 North said.