Seoul: North Korea may be preparing to shut down its main nuclear reactor, renewing hopes that Pyongyang will comply with a disarmament agreement days after it missed a deadline to shutter the facility.
The Yongbyon reactor remained in operation, but there was a high possibility that movement of cars and people at the site recorded in satellite photos could be linked to a shutdown, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unnamed intelligence official. The Dong-a Ilbo daily carried a similar report.
An official at the National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s main spy agency, told the Associated Press they were “following and analyzing some peculiar movements” around the reactor in North Korea, without elaborating. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing policy.
Yonhap news agency cited another unnamed intelligence official as saying that South Korea and the United States have been closely monitoring some movement since a month ago.
“The intensity of these activities has increased in the last couple of weeks,” the official was quoted as saying. “There are activities other than cars and people moving busily.”
The report comes after the North missed a Saturday deadline to shut down the reactor and allow UN inspectors to verify and seal the facility under a February agreement with the US and four other countries.
If the North complies, that would be its first move toward stopping production of nuclear weapons since 2002, the start of the latest nuclear standoff. The North is believed to have produced as many as a dozen atomic bombs since then, and conducted an underground test detonation in October.
Pyongyang said last week that honoring its pledge was contingent on the release of money frozen in a separate financial dispute after Washington blacklisted a bank where North Korea had accounts. The funds were allegedly used in money laundering and counterfeiting.
The money was freed for withdrawal last week, but it’s unclear when the North will move to get its $25 mn (Rs11,250 crore). Song and Rice “reaffirmed that the door to resolving the (bank) issue is clearly open to North Korea and agreed to continue discussions among related countries to resolve the issue,” according to an official statement.