Spy agency detects ongoing activity in N. Korean uranium enrichment plant

Lim Chang-won Reporter() | Posted : March 7, 2019, 14:17 | Updated : March 7, 2019, 14:17

[Yonhap Photo]

SEOUL -- South Korea's spy agency has detected signs of normal operation at a uranium enrichment plant in North Korea's main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, well before a summit between its leader and U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam.

In a fresh revelation on Thursday, lawmakers said that the National Intelligence Service (NIS) has spotted "normal" operation at North Korea's uranium enrichment facility in Yongbyon. The NIS report was made Tuesday at a National Assembly intelligence committee.

Together with other nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, the uranium enrichment plant has been closely monitored by U.S. and South Korean intelligence assets. The spy agency did not say whether the North has produced weapons-grade nuclear material because many facilities in Yongbyon, including a five-megawatt reactor, remained dormant.

The agency also said that the movement of supply vehicles was captured at the Saneum-dong missile research center on the outskirts of Pyongyang, according to lawmakers. The center is one of North Korea's crucial facilities for weapons of mass destruction.

In Saneum-dong, North Korea assembled a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) called "Hwasong-15" launched in November 2017. Experts characterized the Hwasong-15 as a two-stage, liquid-fueled ICBM capable of carrying nuclear warheads into the U.S. East Coast.

Signs of activity inside North Korea's nuclear and missile facilities were disclosed this week after U.S. and North Korean leaders failed to strike a deal at their summit in Vietnam, triggering debate over whether Pyongyang is going backward.

At an inter-Korean summit in September last year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged to permanently dismantle facilities for ballistic missile launches and engine testing at the Sohae space center in Tongchang-ri in the presence of international inspectors.
 
On Wednesday, 38 North, the website of a U.S. research institute, said that North Korea started restoring some dismantled structures in Sohae sometime between February 16 and March 2 this year. Trump said he would be disappointed if North Korea is really rebuilding a missile engine test site. "I would be very disappointed if that were happening."
 
At an inter-Korean summit in September last year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged to permanently dismantle facilities for ballistic missile launches and engine testing at the Sohae space center in Tongchang-ri in the presence of international inspectors.
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