Thermal images of North Korea’s nuclear research center indicates increased production of nuclear material for Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons stockpile, a U.S.-based think tank reports.
Scans of the Radiochemical Laboratory at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center reveal marked increases in thermal activity, hinting at plutonium production, 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, reported. Researchers also detected increased thermal activity, possibly the result of centrifuge operations, at another facility dedicated to uranium enrichment.
North Korea ramped up uranium enrichment in September, leading experts to conclude that the North could produce six nuclear bombs per year, and the International Atomic Energy Association reported in March that North Korea has more than doubled the size of its uranium enrichment facility in recent years, pushing nuclear material production into a “new phase.”
Observers also noticed possible activity at the Experimental Light Water Reactor, which could be “cause for concern.”
If the rogue state is processing plutonium and uranium, it is very likely the North Korean regime intends to expand its nuclear arsenal, a deeply concerning discovery given North Korea’s recent test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that some experts assess could strike the U.S., specifically Alaska, parts of the Pacific Northwest, and possibly even the West Coast.
The good news is that the Isotope/Tritium Production Facility appears inactive for the time being, suggesting that North Korea is not producing tritium, an important isotope essential in the production of boosted yield nuclear weapons and hydrogen bombs. While the facility is not currently operational, experts believe that North Korea has the ability to produce tritium.
“I believe they have made tritium,” Siegfried Hecker explained to reporters in South Korea last month, although he expressed doubts about the North’s ability to develop a hydrogen bomb now. “They can make tritium so they have the basic element for a hydrogen bomb. But it takes much more than that to weaponize hydrogen bombs. I don’t believe they can do that.” North Korea claimed the successful test of a hydrogen bomb last January, but experts are skeptical.
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006, with two successful tests last year. With each test, the explosive yield increases, enhancing North Korea’s ability to rain down devastation on those countries it considers enemies.
The Trump administration, like its predecessors, is pursuing denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. Having abandoned the Obama-era policy of “strategic patience,” the president and his team are applying “maximum pressure and engagement,” which involves military deterrence, economic sanctions, and diplomatic pressure, to rein in North Korea.
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