Steel lattice work at the Taechon Reactor in May
1992. Source: International Atomic Energy Agency
via Institute for Science and International Security.

Japan’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun (subscription only) reports North Korea has resumed construction of the 50 MWe reactor at Yongbyon and the 200 MWe reactor at Taechon.

North Korea suspended construction on the two reactors under the 1994 Agreed Framework. AP has a summary, but no mention in the New York Times or Washington Post.

What, is David Sanger on vacation?

Reuters—I don’t have the full Nikkei story yet—claims North Korea informed the United States “indirectly”—presumably through Stanford Professor John Lewis, who declined to comment when Kyodo ran a story two weeks ago.

Dan Sneider had the best public debrief of Lewis (no relation) in the San Jose Mercury-News, including his mention that the North Koreans “told Lewis they have restarted construction of 50-megawatt and 200-megawatt reactors, both halted after the 1994 agreement to freeze their program.”

Nikkei quoted official sources claiming “the resumed construction has been confirmed through spy satellite photographs and other data,” but Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda denied that Tokyo had confirmed construction at the sites.

Either way, this should be easy with satellite imagery—check out Corey Hinderstein’s analysis of a similar report in 2002.

The gas-graphite reactors—frozen under the 1994 Agreed Framework—are more conducive to producing weapons-grade plutonium than the light water reactors North Korea agreed to accept under the Agreed Framework. The CIA estimated in 2002 that:

  • The 50 MWe reactor at Yongbyon and the 200 MWe reactor at Taechon would generate about 275 kg per year, although it would take several years to complete construction of these reactors.

A similar conclusion was reached by David Albright and Holly Higgins, who concluded North Korea could produce enough plutonium at the two reactors (plus the 5 MW reactor at Yongbyon) for 40-55 nuclear weapons each year.

Paul Adds:

Jiji Press Ticker reported 30 June that, according to Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, Tokyo “has yet to confirm whether North Korea has restarted construction” of the reactors.

I’m a bit curious as to why the USFG would leak intel like this to a non-US publication. Maybe the reporters just asked for confirmation of the SJMN Lewis quote, although the story doesn’t read that way.