What’s Kim Jong-un up to? Nuclear build-up fears as North Korea re-starts activity at site

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However, one UK-based expert in the country has said despite a bullish speech earlier this week, Kim understands his country would face total annihilation if any conflict did erupt – and suggested the 36-year-old was therefore keen for further talks with Washington. Yongbyon – located roughly 60 miles north of the capital, Pyongyang – produced the fissile material for North Korea’s six nuclear weapon tests from 2006 to 2017.

The 2018 Pyongyang agreement, signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-In, committed the North to dismantle Yongbyon – but only if “the US would engage in correlative action”.

Nevertheless, activity there appeared to cease after Kim’s three summit meetings with US President Donald Trump – until recently.

The 38 North website focused on a series of satellite images taken by Airbus’s Pleiades satellite constellation.

Commercial satellite imagery over the past year indicates that the light activity observed throughout North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center goes beyond a caretaker status

38 North analysis

Analysts Peter Makowsky, Fred Pabian and Jack Liu outlined their conclusions in a report published yesterday.

They wrote: “Commercial satellite imagery over the past year indicates that the light activity observed throughout North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center goes beyond a caretaker status.

“Specifically, the cyclical reappearance of specialised railcars and the occasional presence of a possible liquid nitrogen (LN) tanker trailer at the Uranium Enrichment Plant (UEP), suggests continued enrichment operations.

“Additionally, construction has been ongoing around the Main Research and Administrative Headquarters Area.”

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There was currently no evidence to suggest either the 5 MWe Reactor or the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) have been operating, they said.

However, they added: “Most recently, imagery from July 8 revealed the newly arrived presence of three specialised railcars in the rail yard in an area of Bungang-ni located immediately west of the Yongbyon reactor area, which provides support to the nuclear complex. The railcars were not observed on July 22.

“Prior to this, they were last observed at the UEP rail spur in February.

The flatcars are usually configured to hold between four to fkimive cylindrical containers whose contents remain unknown.

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“Their presence at Yongbyon is cyclical, arriving every few months, three to four times a year, and remaining for a couple of weeks at a time.

“This pattern suggests some type of ongoing operation within these facilities, which requires the removal or receipt of some unidentified chemical agent.

“In addition to the specialised railcars, a possible LN tanker trailer has appeared at the far west end of the UEP at irregular intervals, most recently arriving sometime between July 11 and 14.

“Liquid nitrogen is necessary for operating cold traps in the uranium enrichment process and running vacuum pumps.

“Replenishment of the LN would be necessary to maintain continued centrifuge operations.”

Speaking on Monday at a commemorative event for Korean war veterans, Kim referenced his country’s nuclear arsenal, saying: “Now, we’ve changed to a country which can defend itself reliably and unwaveringly against high-intensity pressures and military threats and blackmailing by imperialistic reactionaries and hostile forces.

“There won’t be any war on this land again and our national security and future will be guaranteed firmly and permanently because of our reliable, effective self-defensive nuclear deterrent.”

His remarks seemed to indicate an unwillingness to enter into further negotiations with the US over denuclearisation.

However, Professor James Hoare of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, an expert in North Korean affairs, told Express.co.uk: “They have been saying for some years that they have a nuclear deterrent and that it guarantees their safety.

“But that has not stopped them negotiating. I expect that there are many who do not think that they are saved by the weapons – even at the wildest estimate they have a very small nuclear arsenal, which nowhere matches those of China, Russia or the USA.

“They know that if they were to use it, they would face a massive reaction.

“I think that if the terms were right, they would come back to the negotiating table. But of course, it is all guesswork.”

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