BERLIN (AP) — There are no signs that North Korea has been reprocessing fuel from its main nuclear reactor into plutonium over the past year, but Pyongyang appears to still be enriching uranium, which could potentially be used in a nuclear weapon, the U.N.’s atomic watchdog said Wednesday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has not had inspectors in North Korea since they were expelled in 2009, but said in a report dated Sept. 1 that it continues to prepare them to return, should leader Kim Jong Un decide to re-admit them.
Meanwhile, it said it has intensified its open source information collection and expanded its collection and analysis of satellite imagery to monitor the country’s nuclear program.
Still, it said, without inspectors to carry out verification, the IAEA’s knowledge of North Korea’s nuclear program “is limited and, as further nuclear activities take place in the country, this knowledge is declining.”
It is known that North Korea has facilities to produce both plutonium and highly enriched uranium, two key ingredients to manufacture bombs, at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex north of the capital, Pyongyang.
The IAEA said in the report, covering the period since its last assessment in August 2019, that it has not detected any operation of the plant that provides the steam necessary for the reprocessing of spent fuel rods, “therefore it is almost certain that no reprocessing activity took place and that the plutonium produced… during the most recent operational cycle has not been separated.”
At the same time, the agency said that its observations of cooling units at the Yongbyon nuclear fuel rod fabrication plant and vehicular movements there “were consistent with the production of enriched uranium at the reported centrifuge enrichment facility.”
North Korea’s “nuclear activities remain a cause for serious concern,” the agency said.