Fears are growing that North Korea is continuing to develop nuclear weapons in defiance of international law, putting the US at a “different level of tension” with the Hermit Kingdom.
Surveillance photos from the Maxar spy satellite show what appear to be secret tunnels at a facility in Yongdoktong
After the images emerged, Rear Admiral Michael Studeman, head of intelligence for the US Indo-Pacific command, said: ”We have our eye on this. And it is deeply concerning where North Korea wants to go.”
Earlier this week, the UN’s Rafael Mariano Grossi said there was evidence that a radiochemical laboratory in Yongbyon was being used to reprocess plutonium for nuclear bombs.
Mr Grossi described the continued nuclear activity as a clear and “deeply regrettable” violation of UN sanctions.
In January, Kim Jong Un signalled plans to develop new nuclear weapons and described the US as North Korea’s “biggest enemy”.
Now the new spy satellite images give further weight to suspicions that North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un is accelerating Pyongyang’s program to develop a nuclear warhead small enough to be delivered by its current generation of missiles.
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"Images released by Maxar show the pair of tunnel entrances as late as December 2019 and a new building-like structure visible by February 2021," said professor Jeffrey Lewis, an expert in nuclear non-proliferation policy working at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
Speaking to CNN, he added "No matter how comical the effort, North Korea continues to upgrade its nuclear weapons facilities and makes efforts to conceal them."
Rear Admiral Studeman said: "the [International Atomic Energy Agency] board of governors issued a notice that there had been evidence of the Koreans reprocessing perhaps nuclear fuel.
"If that is true, then that could put us into a different level of tension with Korea," he said.
Rear Admiral Studeman said the development could be a ploy to put pressure on the Biden administration: 'It may be the first way of getting the new administration's attention here," he said, "where perhaps (North Korea) would use this reprocessing development as a bargaining chip for sanctions relief of some sort."
Commenting on the development to Reuters, Jenny Town, from Washington-based North Korea monitoring project 38 North, said the satellite images weren’t necessarily hard evidence that Pyongyang was building a new generation of nukes: "It doesn't necessarily mean that reprocessing has started,” she said, “but it could be an indication of preparations for that.”
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