With a Curl of Steam, North Korean Nuclear Reactor Back Online: Report

A satellite image shows what appears to be a curl of steam rising out of the long defunct reactor

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DigitalGlobe / ScapeWare3d / 2013 DigitalGlobe

Steam venting from building adjacent to 5MWe Yongbyon reactor on August 31, 2013

In April, North Korea announced that it would revive its long dormant Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which was taken offline in 2007 in exchange for U.S. economic aid. Pyongyang announced plans in April to restart it amid enumerated threats towards the U.S. and South Korea after facing tough international censure over its latest nuclear and rocket tests.

On Thursday, a DigitalGlobe commercial satellite image revealed a faint white discoloration, believed to be a curl of steam, rising out of a building near the reactor’s steam turbines and electric generators.

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The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies released the image as evidence, it said, of Pyongyang’s intention to revive its nuclear program. An anonymous U.S. official echoed the institute’s analysis in an interview with Reuters, arguing that Pyongyang wanted to present its nuclear ambitions as a “fait accompli,” adding, “They’ve no interest in bargaining this away.” According to the report, experts predicted it would take years for North Korea to get the neglected reactor back up and running.