North Korea is close to completing a nuclear reactor, a private U.S. think tank claimed Tuesday. The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security published satellite images of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility taken in May and June this year which it said show a crane and a steel beam.
ISIS claimed major external work on the reactor appears to be complete, even though the building itself still lacks a dome. The reactor measures around 30 m in diameter and approximately 40 m in height. Construction progressed rapidly since 2010 but was halted temporary between December of 2011 and February this year.
The institute believes this is a light-water reactor, and expert opinions are split whether it would be capable of any significant contribution to the North's nuclear weapons program.
North Korea watchers here are at any rate skeptical whether the North will be able to complete the reactor. "It is not easy to operate a light-water nuclear reactor," said one South Korean intelligence official. "We believe that North Korea does not have the capability to complete the plant on its own."
Other experts said the North could use the reactor as leverage to extract more concessions from the international community.
In the late 1990s, North Korea dug a huge cave complex in Kumchangri, 160 km north of Pyongyang. The U.S. was suspicious it was an underground nuclear test facility, and North Korea walked away from talks in February 1999 with hundreds of thousands of tons of food and medical supplies. A U.S. fact-finding team searched through Kumchangri in May of that year but found only an empty cave.