North Korea, which conducted its fourth nuclear test last month and launched a long-range rocket on Saturday, could begin to recover plutonium from a restarted nuclear reactor within weeks, the US National Intelligence director has said.
James Clapper said that, in 2013, following its third nuclear test, North Korea announced its intention to “refurbish and restart” facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, to include the uranium enrichment facility and its graphite-moderated plutonium production reactor shut down in 2007.
“We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the plutonium production reactor,” Mr Clapper said in prepared testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We further assess that North Korea has been operating the reactor long enough so that it could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel within a matter of weeks to months,” he said in his annual Worldwide Threat Assessment.
North Korea has used its graphite-moderated reactor at Yongbyon as a source of plutonium for its atomic bombs.
It tested a fourth nuclear device on January 6.
North Korea said in September that Yongbyon was operating and that it was working to improve the “quality and quantity” of weapons which it could use against the US at “any time.”
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