North Korean Nuclear Reactor Worries Northeast Asia

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Rishika Kenkre
Staff Writer

According to new satellite pictures, North Korea has restarted a reactor for producing plutonium in the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Institute.

A Johns Hopkins University think tank, 38 North, found that plutonium of the Yongbyon reactor is thought to have been used in North Korea’s nuclear weapon tests. Plutonium is used as the main fuel for traditional nuclear weapons, as stated by CNN. 38 North observed in the satellite imagery that lack of snow on the roof suggests that the the building was being heated and operations had resumed.

According to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies found a water plume coming from the cooling water outlet of the reactor, suggesting that it is operating.

In the center of the Yongbyon structure, there is the 5MWe (electrical power) reactor at which operations were ceased in 2015, as stated by 38 North. In addition to this information from 38 North, the think tank found that vehicles near the reactor’s cooling cisterns have been cleaned out of ice.

Even though CNN recognizes that North Korea has approximately 15-22 nuclear weapons, the country’s production of plutonium is quite low, creating a large demand for Yongbyon nuclear activity.

According to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, South Korean intelligence organizations proclaimed that they had recently found missile components that most likely act as the lower section of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). This created tension and fears that a test-launch is happening soon.

Before this, North Korea has put up imitations of a road-mobile missile that is thought to be an ICBM, called KN-08 by onlookers. Outside observers think it is an updated version of the missile, KN-14. In terms of international relations, a road-mobile ICBM, which can be easily moved until fired, makes the task of finding and stopping the missile launch much more arduous.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the ICBM is composed of “two parts under 15 meters (49 feet) long and is shorter than the KN-08 and KN-14.” It’s an incognito missile that can have disastrous impacts.

North Korea has continued to form its nuclear program, flouting internationally imposed sanctions. During his speech on New Year’s Day, Kim Jong Un proclaimed that North Korea was nearing its ability to test an ICBM. This missile has a range that includes a large portion of the U.S. If the parties discuss the nuclear sanctions, North Korea’s nuclear reactor has clearly strengthened its resolve.

As a result of the development of the nuclear reactor in North Korea, President Donald Trump’s administration will have to respond. Since South Korea and Japan are the ones that will predictably be the most impacted, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is forming a positive relationship with Trump. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has traveled to the region to ease the anxieties of the Japanese and South Korean governments.

As China supports North Korea economically, it too will play a role in negotiations. China is extremely hesitant to meddle in this endeavor, as it could potentially force the disintegration of the regime and put U.S. and South Korean troops at the border.

According to CNN, what Kim Jong Un seeks for is weapons that will hit the U.S., to which Trump responded with a tweet that said it “won’t happen.” Still, there aren’t any indications that this will be stopped.

There is a history of nuclear weapons sanctions being ineffective in forcing countries considered threatening to cease nuclear experimentation. For example, according to Reuters columnist Peter Apps, President George Bush failed to realize the ineffectiveness of sanctions imposed on Iran until the 2006 nuclear test happened. The nuclear sanctions have proven to be ineffective in stopping Kim Jung Un’s ambitions of making North Korea a nuclear power. Starting with President Bill Clinton in the nineties, later U.S. presidents have contemplated more direct actions other than the implementation of foreign policy such as air strikes.