Recent satellite images show North Korea is expanding a uranium enrichment plant at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, The Associated Press reported Saturday.
“The expansion of the enrichment plant probably indicates that North Korea plans to increase its production of weapons-grade uranium at the Yongbyon site by as much as 25%,” Jeffrey Lewis and two other experts at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey said in a report.
The report said the photos taken by satellite imagery company Maxar showed construction in an area adjoining the uranium enrichment plant at Yongbyon.
It said a satellite image taken on September 1 showed North Korea cleared trees and prepared the ground for construction, and that a construction excavator was also visible. The report said a second image taken on September 14 showed a wall erected to enclose the area, work on a foundation and panels removed from the side of the enrichment building to provide access to the newly enclosed area.
Last month, satellite photos of Yongbyon showed signs that North Korea was resuming the operation of other facilities to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
The report follows three tests of ballistic missiles that North Korea carried out in recent days. Most recently, Pyongyang said it successfully launched ballistic missiles from a train for the first time and was continuing to bolster its defenses.
North Korea, which has conducted many missile tests in recent years, restarted those tests after denuclearization talks with the United States came to a halt.
Former US President Donald Trump tried to reach an agreement with North Korea while in office. Kim and Trump met in Hanoi in 2019 for a summit that left nuclear talks at a standstill.
The pair had met three times since June 2018 but made little progress towards denuclearization.
The new Biden administration reached out to North Korea but the country did not respond to those overtures.
In Biden’s first policy speech to Congress, he said nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran posed threats that would be addressed through “diplomacy and stern deterrence”.
Responding to that speech, North Korea dismissed the idea of talks with Washington, saying Biden’s speech was “intolerable” and “a big blunder.”
Following the North’s first test this week, the United States said it still remains prepared to engage with North Korea on denuclearization.