North Korea appears to be increasing efforts to develop a nuclear bomb and a missile to carry such a weapon great distances. The efforts could lead to new international restrictions on the North Korean government.
North Korean state media reported Tuesday that the country’s main nuclear center at Yongbyon was fully operational.
A nuclear bomb fuel reactor was closed there in 2007. After North Korea’s third nuclear test in 2013, the government announced plans to restart the reactor.
Military experts have studied satellite images of the Yongbyon center. They said in January that the pictures showed the reactor was again operational. But it was only this week that North Korea provided any official confirmation.
On Monday, North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration said it is preparing for a possible satellite launch. It said the launch would likely use ballistic missile technology.
State media said “the world will clearly see a series of satellites of (North) Korea soaring into the sky at the times and locations determined by the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea.”
Experts believe that North Korea has been planning to launch a long-range rocket to mark the 70th anniversary of the ruling party. They believe the launch could take place in October.
North Korea has said that such launches are for peaceful, non-military purposes. But the United States and its allies say the launches are designed to help the North develop long-range ballistic missile technology. The United Nations Security Council has barred North Korea from using such technology.
Daniel Pinkston is a visiting research fellow at Babes-Bolyai University’s Conflict Studies Center in Romania. He studies North Korea. He notes that South Korea has more modern conventional weapons than the North. Many of North Korea’s weapons were developed 40 or more years ago. He believes the North understands this and has decided it must have nuclear weapons.
North Korea says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against a possible invasion by the United States. The North launched its first long-distance rocket in 1998. After a year of negotiations, North Korean agreed to stop long distance missile tests in exchange for better contacts with the United States and its allies. As part of the 1999 agreement, the North received money and food aid.
In 2009, North Korea walked out of six-nation talks aimed at persuading the North to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees. North Korea has since carried out several nuclear and missile tests. This year, the North carried out submarine-based missile tests.
The latest nuclear and missile launch efforts could lead to calls for more international restrictions on North Korea. They could also worsen relations between North Korea and China. And they could harm recent attempts to improve relations between North and South Korea.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
VOA’s Brian Padden reported on this story from Seoul. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
reactor - n. a large device that produces nuclear energy
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