N. Korea 'making progress' on new nuclear reactor

A South Korean soldier on guard before the military demarcation line and North Korea, in the truce village of Panmunjom, within the Demilitarised Zone dividing the two Koreas.
A South Korean soldier on guard before the military demarcation line and North Korea, in the truce village of Panmunjom, within the Demilitarised Zone dividing the two Koreas.

Report comes even as Olympic detente fuels hopes of better inter-Korea relations

SEOUL • The future of the security situation on the Korean Peninsula appears uncertain, despite an Olympic detente that has been feeding hopes for improved relations, and even an inter-Korean summit.

North Korea's latest experimental light water reactor appears to be nearing completion, according to a report on 38 North, the North Korea analysis website operated by the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University in the US.

Citing satellite imagery of the North's Yongbyon nuclear facility, 38 North reported on Monday that "steady progress" had been made on the reactor that Pyongyang began constructing in 2010.

According to the report, the reactor appears "externally complete" and a plutonium production reactor at the site may recently have been in operation.

The 38 North report follows on the heels of an American senator's comment that a military conflict between the United States and its allies and North Korea would be brief, but cause destruction of "biblical proportions".

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, Senator James Risch said US President Donald Trump is committed to preventing North Korea from completing ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. "If this thing starts, it is going to be probably one of the worst catastrophic events in the history of our civilisation, but it is going to be very, very brief," he said, rejecting the idea of a "bloody nose" strategy.

The strategy refers to a preventive strike targeting limited targets.

BRUTAL

If this thing starts, it is going to be probably one of the worst catastrophic events in the history of our civilisation, but it is going to be very, very brief.

SENATOR JAMES RISCH, on a nuclear war with North Korea.

"The end of it is going to see mass casualties, the likes of which the planet has never seen. It would be biblical proportion," said Mr Risch.

He added that Mr Trump has been very clear on preventing North Korea from obtaining the ability to strike the US.

"Anyone who doubts the President's commitment to see that doesn't happen, does so really at their own peril," said Mr Risch, warning of "breathtaking consequences".

While the military option is unlikely, the US and allies have reiterated on numerous occasions that any dialogue with North Korea must concern denuclearisation.

Pyongyang, however, maintains that its nuclear weapons programme is not negotiable, and it has recently reverted to accusing Washington of orchestrating tensions on the peninsula.

Despite global condemnation, North Korea has its own list of demands, none of which have been received well by South Korea and its allies. One of the North's main demands is for South Korea to halt all joint military drills with the US.

The demand has mostly been ignored by Seoul and Washington, with top military officials hinting that drills postponed for the Pyeongchang Olympics will be resumed in the near future.

South Korea's Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon - Seoul's point man on dealing with Pyongyang - also hinted that joint drills are an independent issue.

Speaking to lawmakers on Tuesday, Mr Cho said the South Korean and US militaries are discussing the resumption of the drills - Foal Eagle and Key Resolve - after the end of the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. He also stated that his ministry has no plans to oppose related developments.

The minister also flatly denied the possibility of returning a number of North Korean defectors. The North has demanded that Seoul return 12 individuals who escaped to the South in 2016 from a North Korean government-operated restaurant in China.

THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2018, with the headline 'N. Korea 'making progress' on new nuclear reactor'. Print Edition | Subscribe