WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 (Yonhap) -- Fresh satellite imagery shows that North Korea has apparently restarted its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor, a U.S. website monitoring the communist nation said Friday.
"Imagery from January 22 shows a water plume (most probably warm) originating from the cooling water outlet of the reactor, an indication that the reactor is very likely operating," the website 38 North said in a report.
"Currently, most of the river is frozen over except where this water mixes with the river. Currents carry this mix downstream — visible as a plume of ice-free water. Without being able to measure the water temperature rise or water flow from the reactor, it is impossible to estimate at what power level the reactor is running, although it may be considerable," it said.
Imagery from January 18 showed signs that Pyongyang was preparing to restart the reactor after spent fuel rods had previously been unloaded for a reprocessing campaign that produced additional plutonium for its nuclear weapons stockpile, the report said.
The graphite-moderated 5-megawatt reactor has been the source of weapons-grade plutonium for the communist nation. The small reactor is capable of producing spent fuel rods that, if reprocessed, could give the regime enough plutonium to make one bomb a year.
The reactor has provided Pyongyang with weapons-grade plutonium that the regime used in its first three nuclear tests, in 2006, 2009 and 2013. The North conducted its fourth and fifth nuclear tests in January and September last year.