North Korea is allegedly continuing the operation of a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor at its Yongbyon complex, a US monitoring website said, citing the release of steam and water seen in recent satellite imagery.
Reported by 38 North on Wednesday, the recent commercial satellite imagery of the complex north of Pyongyang provided evidence of activity at the 5-megawatt reactor, which can produce up to 6 kg of plutonium that is sufficient for a nuclear bomb in a year.
The reactor appeared to be shut down from 2018 until recent months and the new activity is signifivant in view of resumption of plutonium production needed to make a nuclear bomb.
"Steam is emanating from the reactor's generator hall, indicating that at least one of the generators is running," the website reported. "Additionally, water continues to be discharged from the auxiliary pipe into the channel leading to the Kuryong river."
The website said the new activity at the reactor is "notable," as production of fissile materials is likely needed to accomplish North Korea's goal of strengthening nuclear capabilities as announced during the country's 8th party congress in January this year.
Construction of a new wing south of the experimental light water reactor (marked in visual) seems to continue, although there are no signs of operations starting at the facility, it noted.
The suspicion first came up when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said earlier this year that the North appears to have continued operations at the Yongbyon nuclear reactor since it went into operation in August.
The UN nuclear watchdog also pointed out nuclear activities at the nation's uranium enrichment and mine facility elsewhere, Yonhap news agency reported.
"There are ongoing indications of activities at the Kangson complex and the Pyongsan Mine and Concentration Plant," IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said during a board of governors meeting on Wednesday.
The Kangson complex is North Korea's second uranium-enrichment plant after its well-known facility in Yongbyon, and the Pyongsan facility is a major establishment that turns uranium ore into yellowcake, a first step toward enriching uranium.
Concerns are rising over signs of Pyongyang's nuclear activities, especially when South Korea and the US have been in consultations for a declaration of a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War to resume stalled denuclearization talks with the reclusive state.
"We are closely monitoring related reports," a unification ministry official said, declining to comment further. Nuclear talks between the US and the North have remained stalled since the 2019 Hanoi summit between the two nations ended without a deal.
(With inputs from IANS)