The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s annual report reveals that North Korea has restarted a nuclear reactor that is widely believed to have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons.
“Since early July, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor,” the atomic agency said in its report.
They added that this was “deeply troubling”, and a “clear violation” of UN resolutions.
The operation of the reactor follows a recent indication that Pyongyang is also using a nearby radiochemical laboratory to separate plutonium from spent fuel previously removed from the reactor.
The agency said that this is a possible sign that Pyongyang is expanding its banned weapons programme.
According to the report, the reactor in Yongbyon appeared to have been inactive from December 2018 until now.
IAEA inspectors were kicked out of North Korea in 2009, and the agency has since monitored it from outside.
North Korea is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have seen rapid progress under leader Kim Jong-un.
The leader offered to dismantle part of the Yongbyon complex at the summit with then US President Donald Trump but not other sites, in exchange for sanctions relief. However, his offer was rejected.
North Korea is believed to have more uranium enrichment facilities other than Yongbyon; closing it down would not signal an end to the country’s atomic efforts.
The country suspended nuclear and missile testing in 2018 but said it was abandoning this decision in January 2020.
Since then, it has carried out a series of short-range missile launches but has not conducted a nuclear test since 2017.