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all eyes on north korea

In 'deeply troubling' move, North Korea appears to have restarted plutonium-producing reactor

North Korea appears to have restarted its Yongbyon reactor, which produces plutonium and was likely shut down in December 2018, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The International Atomic Energy Agency wrote in its yearly report on North Korea's nuclear capabilities that "since early July, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor." There also appears to be evidence that a lab near Yongbyon is being used to separate plutonium from spent fuel previously removed from the reactor, the Journal reports. This is "deeply troubling," the watchdog agency said in its report, and in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The agency hasn't had inspectors inside North Korea since 2009, when they were expelled from the country. The Biden administration has said it is ready to talk with North Korea about its nuclear program, and a senior U.S. official told the Journal the report "underscores the urgent need for dialogue and diplomacy so we can achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

It's been estimated by experts that North Korea may have anywhere from 20 to 60 nuclear weapons using plutonium and highly enriched uranium, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in January stated he wanted to modernize the country's nuclear technology. In 2019, North Korea said it would shutter the Yongbyon reactor and additional facilities if the United States provided sanctions relief, but the offer was rejected by then-President Donald Trump, who said it didn't go far enough.

Robert Einhorn, a former State Department official, told the Journal that "resumed operations at the reactor and reprocessing facility may be an indication" that the North Korean leader "sees little prospect of a nuclear deal." Read more at The Wall Street Journal.