North Korea Improving A Key Nuclear Research Facility At ‘Rapid Pace’


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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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North Korea is making improvements to a key nuclear research facility, satellite images from June 21 reveal.

North Korea is working on improving the infrastructure at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, North Korea watchdog 38 North reported, explaining that development is occurring at a “rapid pace.”

The North has apparently completed modifications to the plutonium production reactor’s cooling system, erected new buildings near the cooling tower, and continued construction on support structures in other operational areas.

“Continued work at the Yongbyon facility should not be seen as having any relationship to North Korea’s pledge to denuclearize,” the 38 North analysis pointed out. “The North’s nuclear cadre can be expected to proceed with business as usual until specific orders are issued from Pyongyang.” It is, however, potentially disconcerting if those units have not received orders from Pyongyang, given commitments to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an unprecedented summit in Singapore on June 12. The two world leaders signed an agreement in which Kim expressed a commitment to “work toward” the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for U.S. security assurances. (RELATED: Here’s What Trump, Kim Jong Un Agreed Upon At Summit)

On his return from the summit, the president touted his achievements, claiming that North Korea was no longer testing or researching nuclear weaponry.

North Korea has put a moratorium on ballistic missile and nuclear weapons testing and dismantled, to an uncertain extent, its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, but there is no clear indication that North Korea has abandoned its nuclear research operations. The ongoing construction and developments at Yongbyon raise serious questions about the president’s claims, as well as Kim’s commitments.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis said June 20that he is “not aware” of any steps by North Korea to denuclearize, but he explained that the process has only just begun. “The detailed negotiations have not begun. I wouldn’t expect that at this point.”

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