U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Tuesday that North Korea has “followed through” on its promise to restart a plutonium reactor, adding that the reactor has been operating long enough to recover spent fuel within weeks.
The Associated Press first reported Clapper’s remarks, which were made before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. He was discussing the intelligence community’s assessment of the greatest threats facing the nation.
“We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the plutonium production reactor,” Clapper told lawmakers. “We further assess that North Korea has been operating the reactor long enough so that it could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel within a matter of weeks to months.”
Following its third nuclear test, North Korea said in 2013 that it planned to restart Yongbyon’s plutonium reactor, which was previously shut down in 2007. Last September, North Korea said that the Yongbyon nuclear facility had resumed normal operations.
Satellite imagery had months earlier detected increased activity at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, indicating that North Korea had activated a uranium centrifuge hall there.
North Korea has pressed forward with its nuclear program despite international sanctions. It purportedly conducted a fourth nuclear test weeks ago and launched a long-range rocket over the weekend, both actions violating U.N. sanctions.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the rocket launch.