Washington (June 28, 2018): New satellite images show North Korea has made rapid improvements to the infrastructure at its Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center — a facility used to produce weapons-grade fissile material.
Captured on June 21, the photos reveal modifications to the site’s plutonium production reactor and the construction of several support facilities — long-planned upgrades that were already underway before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump met in Singapore earlier this month.The report states that “continued work at the Yongbyon facility should not be seen as having any relationship to North Korea’s pledge to denuclearize,” but the photos suggest that Pyongyang continues to proceed with business as usual when it comes to maintaining its nuclear sites following the summit.
“No change is actually a pretty significant story … this is still an active site producing plutonium for North Korea,” according to Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.The images stand in stark contrast to Trump’s recent declaration that the North Korean regime no longer poses a nuclear threat, even though the meeting produced no verifiable proof that North Korea will discontinue its nuclear program.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that North Korea remains a nuclear threat, but defended Trump’s previous comment.
“I’m confident what he intended there was we did reduce the threat,” said Pompeo. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. We took the tension level down.”“I think his point was a fair one,” he added. “For the moment, we have reduced risk.” But Trump has repeatedly mischaracterized the nature of his deal with Kim, insisting last week that the North Korean leader had agreed to begin “total denuclearization” right away.In reality, the document he signed with Kim at their June 12 summit in Singapore only reiterated North Korea’s previous commitment to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and the new images released Wednesday align with Defense Secretary James Mattis’ assessment that Pyongyang remains in a holding pattern as negotiators discuss the next steps in talks.
Adam Mount, a senior fellow and director at the Federation of American Scientists, agreed that the images indicate that North Korea will continue to support the foundation of its nuclear program until the two sides are able to agree on specific terms.
North Korea also maintains other nuclear facilities where they produce the bulk of their nuclear weapons materials and missiles. While these sites cannot be detected, they are assumed to remain operational.