Yongbyon Reveals Signs of LWR Construction

The DPRK is back to building a light-water reactor (LWR).

North Korea has begun building an experimental light-water reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, a news report said Saturday, in what could be an attempt to draw attention and press Washington to resume talks on Pyongyang’s atomic programs.

The reactor will be able to generate about 25 to 30 megawatts of electricity, Siegfried Hecker, former director of the U.S. Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, told reporters in Beijing after a trip to North Korea, according to Japan’s Kyodo News agency.

Hecker said construction of the reactor has just begun and is likely to take several years to complete, according to Kyodo.

In March, North Korea said it would build a light-water power plant using its own nuclear fuel in the near future.

Building a light-water reactor would give the country a reason to enrich uranium, which at low levels can be used in power reactors — and at higher levels in nuclear bombs.

Duyeon at Nukes of Hazard speculates on what the North Koreans could be doing.

It is too early to sound alarm bells or to be overly concerned. Still, if the North is in fact building a LWR, then some initial thoughts that come to mind are that Pyongyang again has a domestic and international agenda. It appears to be a sign that the North will continue to pursue uranium enrichment even though it will take years to complete the reactor and will have difficulty receiving outside help for its construction due to a series of UN Security Council sanctions resolutions and export bans. The only way to receive outside help is to smuggle in reactor parts, centrifuges and other technology under the radar of export controls. In realistic terms, the envisioned reactor can only be small in size. Even China is unable to safely build large reactors on its own.

The move also seems to be a part of the “mighty and powerful nation by 2012” equation and to prepare for a leadership succession. The LWR construction could also have an element of eliciting negotiations from the U.S. despite an apparent decision to rely on big brother China for life support. And then of course, it could be a show to grab international attention.

The building would seem to rule out any return to Six Party negotiations.

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Filed under: Korea, USA, WMD Tagged: barack h. obama, china, dprk, light water reactor, lwr, north korea, prc, siegfried hecker, six party talks, yongbyon