SEOUL—North Korea’s apparent resumption of plutonium production bolsters Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal both as a deterrent and a deal-bargaining chip for potential talks with the U.S.
Kim Jong Un’s regime is fully aware that activity at its nuclear sites is closely watched by satellite surveillance. Cooling water was recently spotted being discharged from the regime’s Yongbyon plutonium-producing reactor, a sign that it was again operational, according to a recent report by the U.N.’s atomic agency. A nearby laboratory that separates plutonium from spent fuel that had been previously removed from the Yongbyon reactor also appeared to be operational in recent months, it added.
The moves execute on Mr. Kim’s promises to keep advancing the country’s nuclear program, while trading fireworks that would attract blowback for quieter enhancements that could win the rogue nation more substantive gains.
In recent weeks, Pyongyang has voiced displeasure at the Biden administration, calling U.S. overtures for talks a hypocrisy and vowing to boost military capabilities. But activity at Yongbyon would pair the Kim regime’s fiery rhetoric with some calculated action.
“We will counter the U.S. on the principle of power for power and goodwill for goodwill,” said Kim Yo Jong, the dictator’s younger sister, earlier this month.
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