Satellite images reveal North Korea expanding facility used to produce weapons-grade uranium

·2-min read
A black and white satellite image shows the facility from above - Maxar Tech/AFP
A black and white satellite image shows the facility from above - Maxar Tech/AFP

North Korea is making renovations to a uranium enrichment plant that could indicate it plans to ramp up production of nuclear weapons, according to new satellite images obtained by CNN.

The images captured this week by Maxar, a commercial imaging company, show the expansion of a key facility within the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Facility, which the US has tried to shut down by exerting pressure on Pyongyang through economic sanctions.

The changes could allow the reclusive country to increase production of weapons-grade nuclear material by as much as 25 per cent, Jeffrey Lewis, a weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told the news channel.

The new evidence of activities at the controversial plant follows a report in August from the United Nations atomic watchdog that it had detected “deeply troubling” signs that North Korea has restarted the nuclear reactor it is previously believed to have used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

“Since early July 2021, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor,” it said.

In this image provided by the Korean Central News Agency, a missile appears to launch from the back of a train - KCNA via Reuters
In this image provided by the Korean Central News Agency, a missile appears to launch from the back of a train - KCNA via Reuters

“The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable,” the agency said, referring to North Korea by its formal name.

Experts have warned that more plutonium could help North Korea make smaller nuclear weapons to fit on its ballistic missiles.

The reports align with intelligence assessments that North Korea is moving forward with the development of its nuclear weapons programme.

This week it tested a new round of missiles, including long-range cruise missiles that experts believe have a nuclear capability.

On Wednesday, it launched short-range ballistic missiles into the sea from a new train track-based system that could offer Pyongyang the ability to transport its major weapons undetected around the country.

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