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North Korea May Have Just Restarted its Nuclear Program

Steam coming from a mothballed plutonium plant could mean North Korea is resuming its weapons program

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A totally irrelevant photo of steam. Photo: Jón Ragnarsson

Last February, North Korea detonated a nuclear weapon, the third test in its incredibly controversial nuclear weapons program. Then, it spent months and months posturing—threatening to resume its war with South Korea, targeting U.S. bases with long range missiles and releasing a highly provocative propaganda video depicting an attack on America. The countdown to war came and went, and North Korea’s displays just sort of faded away. But last night brought a twist: North Korea may have booted up its mothballed nuclear reactor, set to resume plutonium production and expand its nuclear arsenal.

If North Korea has restarted its nuclear program, says the New York Times, it would fly in the face of decades of work meant to stop exactly that. It also wouldn’t be particularly unexpected. North Korea, says Sung-Yoon Lee to the Times, has a “timeworn tactic of raising tensions to remind its adversaries that it is a menace that needs placating, then pushing for economic and diplomatic concessions.”

But for now, says Reuters, though it seems that North Korea has turned its plutonium production plant back on—as evidenced by smoke seen coming from the plant in satellite imagesthere is still some uncertainty in the air. Just as the country uses bluster and propaganda to draw attention and money, says the Times, it could be using the steam emanating from the plant as a ruse.

If the plant is back online, says the Washington Post, a few months of preparations later and the plant could start churning out enough weapons grade plutonium to fill a couple bombs each year.

More from Smithsonian.com:

How Much Damage Could North Korea’s New Nuke Do?
North Korea’s New Video Is Only Its Latest Propaganda About Attacking the U.S.

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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