According to U.S. satellite imagery, the reactor at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility will soon be operational — if it isn’t already. A report issued by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University stated that the color and volume of the steam rising from the facility shows that the reactor is either operational now or will be in a few days.
North Korea will likely start manufacturing plutonium as soon as the reactor is ready, report author Jeffery Lewis told BBC News. “They really are putting themselves in a position to increase the amount of material they have for nuclear weapons, which I think gives them a little bit of leverage in negotiations, and adds a sense of urgency on our part,” he continued.
Analysts believe that North Korea may already posses between four and ten nuclear weapons. The Yongbyon facility is likely capable of producing about 13 pounds of plutonium per year, which is enough to make one or two more nuclear bombs.
The threat is not as imminent as it might seem, however. The Institution for Science and International Security think tank stated that North Korea will not be able to use any new plutonium in nuclear weapons for two and a half to four years.
“There remains time to negotiate a shutdown of the reactor before North Korea can use any of this new plutonium in nuclear weapons,” the think tank said in a report.