South Korea says North’s main nuclear facility to be fully operational by summer

Seoul, Dec 29 (EFE).- North Korea’s main nuclear facility and its light-water reactor will be fully operational by next summer, South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik has said, suspecting that it was unlikely to be used to produce plutonium for atomic weapons.

Shin’s remarks came in response to reporters Thursday after International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi renewed concerns last week over signs of activity at the reactor in the North’s main Yongbyon nuclear complex, about 100 kilometers north of Pyongyang.

The minister said South Korea had detected signs of cooling water being discharged from the reactor since last summer.

It meant that North Korea would take about a year since then to put the reactor in full operation, he said.

However, he suggested that the North was unlikely to produce plutonium for atomic weapons because the proportion of the isotope used in nuclear weapons, generated by light water reactors in spent fuel, is very low.

He highlighted that the regime had already acquired plutonium from its 5-megawatt electricity reactor in Yongbyon.

Despite having less power than the ELWR (estimated at 25–30 megawatts of electricity), it is more efficient in producing the required isotope.

Shin considered that the North Korean argument that the ELWR will be used to produce electricity for the Yongbyon complex itself “is not at all discardable.”

Additionally, he suggested that Pyongyang could assign other military uses to this reactor, like using it as a testing ground to develop a small nuclear reactor, similar to those used by submarines.

Developing nuclear-powered submarines is one of the major objectives of the weapons modernization program approved by North Korea in 2021.

The minister also indicated the possibility that the regime could use the tritium (another isotope generated after fission) produced by the ELWR to manufacture hydrogen bombs. EFE asb-ssk

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