September 15, 2005

Satellite photos show N. Korea nuclear activity

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New satellite photos show for the
first time that North Korea has resumed some work on a nuclear
reactor that could enable the communist state to vastly
increase stocks of weapons-grade plutonium, but the activity
seems to be modest, an analyst said.

The photos, obtained by the Washington-based Institute for
Science and International Security, also appear to confirm
earlier reports that the North Koreans have unloaded and
restocked a smaller plutonium-producing reactor at its Yongbyon
nuclear complex, the analyst, Corey Hinderstein, told Reuters
late on Wednesday.

ISIS, which has often produced authoritative research on
North Korea and Iran, ordered the images from a commercial
satellite firm. U.S. intelligence is believed to have
higher-resolution images but they are classified.

The new data comes to light as six-country talks designed
to end the North's nuclear weapons program have stalemated in
Beijing. Negotiators will try again to break the deadlock on

Construction of the larger, 50-megawatt reactor was halted
at Yongbyon when the North and the United States signed a
nuclear agreement in 1994.

The accord fell apart in 2003 and beginning at the end of
June 2005, there were reports in the Japanese press that
construction at the site had resumed, Hinderstein said.


With the new photos, "for the first time since the 1994
Agreed Framework froze construction, we saw some new activity
at the 50-megawatt reactor site," including work on an access
road and the appearance of a tall object, possibly a mobile
crane, she said.

"These activities are the first real activity at the site
since 1994 but it's not indicative of full-scale construction,"
she said.

It could mean the North Koreans are preparing to start
full-scale construction or it could mean they are aware U.S.
satellites are watching the site and want to provide confusing
information, she said.

The five-megawatt reactor began operating in 1987 but was
shut down in 1994 under the U.S.-North Korea agreed framework,
when 8,000 spent fuel rods were removed. It was restarted again
in February 2003 after the deal fell apart.

It was shut down again in April 2005, presumably so spent
fuel could be removed and new fuel installed. The new photos,
which show a steam plume from the facility, "support North
Korean statements that the five-megawatt reactor is now
operating again," Hinderstein said.

U.S. intelligence estimates Pyongyang has already produced
enough bomb-grade plutonium fuel from the five megawatt reactor
for nine or more weapons.

Experts say the five-megawatt reactor can generate enough
plutonium for one bomb per year. The 50-megawatt reactor could
produce vastly more, they say.