North Korea could recover plutonium ‘within weeks,’ U.S. intelligence says

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South Korean Defense Ministry retrieved an object believed to be a part of North Korean rocket, which was launched on February 7th. Analysis is still underway.

(CNN) — North Korea has reactivated its Yongbyon enrichment facility and could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel in a “matter of weeks or months,” according to the U.S. intelligence chief.

In his annual World Threat Assessment, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said North Korea had threatened to “refurbish and restart” its reactors after the third nuclear test in 2013.

“We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the plutonium production reactor,” he said in the report.

Clapper told a Senate committee on world threats Tuesday North Korea’s “test activities” were “of concern” to the United States. In January, Pyongyang claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb in its fourth nuclear test.

And on February 7, Pyongyang said it had successfully launched an Earth satellite into orbit via the long-range Kwangmyongsong carrier rocket.

First images of debris

Two days later, South Korea released the first images of debris retrieved from the sea southwest of Jeju Island shortly after the rocket launch.

An official with South Korea’s Defense Ministry said that the booster “separated from (the rocket’s) main body and exploded into about 270 pieces.” Officials said the large number of pieces indicated that the rocket’s first-stage booster was fitted with a self-destruct device.

North Korea fired the rocket despite warnings from a number of countries which claimed the satellite launch was a front for a long-range missile test. North Korea maintains the launch is for scientific and “peaceful purposes.”

An emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Sunday agreed on the need for sanctions against Pyongyang.

Separately, South Korea and the United States were looking at possible sanctions beyond those imposed by the United Nations, the South Korean government said. It added that Japan was also on board with possible punitive measures, outside any imposed by the security council.

Clapper told the senate committee that “Pyongyang continues to produce fissile material and develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile.”

“It is also committed to developing a long-range nuclear armed missile that’s capable of posing a direct threat to the United States, although the system has not been flight tested,” he said.

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