Commercial satellite imagery of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center from November 23 provides further evidence that the 5 MWe Reactor is operating. Steam is emanating from the reactor’s generator hall, indicating that at least one of the generators is running. Additionally, water continues to be discharged from the auxiliary pipe into the channel leading to the Kuryong River. The 5 MWe Reactor can produce up to six kg of plutonium per year, although it appeared to be shut down from 2018 until recent months. This new activity is notable since resumption of plutonium production is likely needed to accomplish the ambitious goals for further nuclear weapons development announced at the Eighth Party Congress earlier this year.
Construction of the new building south of the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) continues, although there are no signs of operations starting at the ELWR.
Figure 1. Steam emanating from generator hall at 5 MWe Reactor.
Figure 2. Continued construction of new building near ELWR.
“Great Programme for Struggle Leading Korean-style Socialist Construction to Fresh Victory On Report Made by Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un at Eighth Congress of WPK,” DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs, January 9, 2021, http://www.mfa.gov.kp/en/on-report-at-eighth-congress-of-wpk/.