'N Korea appears to restart nuclear reactor'
Seoul, May 15 : North Korea appears to have resumed operations at its atomic reactor suspected of producing fissile material for the communist state's nuclear weapons programme, an online US-based media service covering security issues said.
About a year ago, North Korea said it halted operations at its Yongbyon reactor in order to extract 8,000 fuel rods. Proliferation experts have said the rods could produce enough weapons-grade material for two or three nuclear bomb.
Satellite photos from January of this year show steam coming out of one of the towers at the reactor, indicating it is active, according to images released over the weekend by Global Security (www.globalsecurity.org), which provides information on intelligence and security matters.
''The steam plume in the January 5, 2006 view is indicative of the reactor being active,'' it said in a caption next to the photograph.
The photos also show that a dirt path at the facility has been paved as well as signs indicating an influx in recent months of vehicles and containers at the nuclear facility some 100 km north of the capital, Pyongyang.
Last August, the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun said a US satellite had detected signs that North Korea had restarted the Yongbyon reactor, quoting unnamed sources familiar with the North's nuclear programmes.
The five-megawatt reactor was shut down in 1994 under the US-North Korea agreed framework when 8,000 spent fuel rods were removed. It was restarted again in February, 2003 after the deal fell apart.
Experts have said the power generated from the Yongbyon plant is believed to be barely enough to run the complex and not for distribution for use outside.
North Korea has stayed away from six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programmes since late last year, saying it will not bow to US pressure to force it back to the table.
The last round of the talks between the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States was held in November, 2005.