North Korea Could Have More Plutonium Than Previously Thought, Report Finds

North Korea Could Have More Plutonium Than Previously Thought, Report Finds

Thermal images of North Korea's main nuclear facility reveal that Kim Jong-un may have produced more plutonium than previously thought in a bid to expand his stockpile of atomic weapons, according to United States researchers.

North Korea deactivated the Yongbyon reactor in 2007 under an aid-for-disarmament accord, but began renovating it after its third nuclear test in 2013.

Recent thermal images show intermittent activity at the radiochemical laboratory that suggests the production of "an undetermined amount of plutonium" at the North's Yongbyon nuclear facility, 38 North said Friday.

The U.S. -based North Korea monitoring Web site "38 North" says there have been at least two unreported reprocessing campaigns in North Korea since last fall to produce plutonium.

North Korea also has conducted five nuclear tests, including three since Kim Jong Un took power after his father died of a heart attack in 2011.

It said increased thermal activity was noted at the Uranium Enrichment Facility, but it was "unclear if this was the result of centrifuge operations or maintenance operations".

The information, which comes from 38 North, a Washington-based think tank connected to Johns Hopkins University, likely means that the North can expand its nuclear weapons stockpile more rapidly than has been estimated up to now.

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The North also carried out its first successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile this month. Discerning the exact status of North Korea's nuclear program is always an inexact science, but the data here from the enrichment sites (which are much harder to hide than the delivery systems) suggests that the program has, if anything, been underestimated.

Uranium occurs naturally in the earth's crust and is enriched into fuel for nuclear reactors.

The finding indicates there was batch, not continuous, processing of spent fuel rods in the period of analysis, it said.

The nuclear bomb that was dropped over the Japanese city of Nagasaki at the end of World War II, killing tens of thousands of people, was filled with plutonium.

North Korea said its fourth nuclear test in January 2016 was a hydrogen bomb, which would be more powerful than an atomic bomb, but experts have cast doubt on the claim.

Meanwhile, the USA ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has been seeking to overcome resistance from China and Russian Federation to a UN Security Council resolution imposing stiffer global sanctions on Pyongyang.

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