WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – North Korea doesn’t appear to be making any more of a key material needed to expand its nuclear weapons stockpile, according to an international monitoring report.
“It is almost certain that no reprocessing activity took place and that the plutonium produced in the 5-megawatt reactor during the most recent operational cycle has not been separated,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Wednesday (Sept 2).
The IAEA relied on satellite imagery to make its assessment because inspectors are barred from entering the country.
They pieced together high-resolution images of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and pictures of a radiochemical laboratory to make their conclusion.
Accounting for nuclear material stockpiled by countries is at the heart of the global arms control system and plays a central role in verifying disarmament agreements.
Publication of a new model last month by Janes Intelligence Review suggested that the size of North Korea’s weapons stockpile is smaller than previously thought.
Using North Korea as a case study, the researchers deconstructed the plutonium and highly-enriched uranium requirements for a two-stage thermonuclear weapon, which differ dramatically from simple single-stage devices modelled in most current studies.
Countries with thermonuclear devices – the likes of which Mr Kim Jong Un is now widely suspected to possess – have greater challenges when it comes to managing the material demands of plutonium, uranium and tritium in their weapons, according to the authors.
The IAEA inspectors did observe indications that North Korea is manufacturing enriched uranium, as well as mining and milling more of the heavy metal that is the key ingredient for reactors and bombs.
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