08/22/2012, 00.00
NORTH KOREA

Construction of Yongbyon nuclear reactor leaps forward

Satellite images show a new dome on the nuclear reactor, which had been a year in the making. Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un might visit Iran to take part in a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - North Korea has completed a critical step in building a new nuclear reactor. Recent satellite images analysed by experts said that North Korean experts have been able to place a dome on a light water reactor at Yongbyon, said Allison Puccioni of Jane's Defence Weekly. But it may take several more years before the site is fully operational.

The international community has been critical of this new reactor and of Pyongyang's nuclear tests since 2008. Pushed by the late Kim Jong-il, Pyongyang's nuclear programme has led the United States and South Korea to end humanitarian aid to the Communist nation, already reeling from famine, floods and policies of economic autarchy that are inappropriate for the country.

For North Korea's Stalinist leaders, the new nuclear reactor has civilian purposes. South Korean intelligence sources believe however it can produce highly enriched uranium for weapons.

At present, ''The emplacement of the dome is a significant development,'' Puccioni said. Now the reactor could be used to produce plutonium or be converted for the purpose of enriching uranium, which is needed to make nuclear weapons.

These developments appear to confirm that North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un plans to stay the militarist course set by his father.

Meanwhile, there are reports that Kim may visit Iran on Sunday for the Non-Aligned Movement summit. Although the visit has not been confirmed, if it did take place it would be a strong message for China, North Korea's only big power friend.

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No agreement on North Korea’s nuclear programme
20/07/2007
Pyongyang gives in and destroys “atomic” tower
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Pyongyang shuts down another 4 nuclear reactors
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IAEA confirms the closure of Yongbyon
16/07/2007
Pyongyang’s Macau accounts unblocked in anticipation of nuclear shut down
11/04/2007