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North Korea's Yongbyon facility partly active after missile launches, analysts say

North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear research center is showing some signs of activity, according to satellite imagery taken Tuesday. File Photo by Siegfried C. Hecker/UPI
North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear research center is showing some signs of activity, according to satellite imagery taken Tuesday. File Photo by Siegfried C. Hecker/UPI | License Photo

March 31 (UPI) -- North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear research center is showing signs of activity after the launch of two short-range ballistic missiles last week, according to U.S. analysts.

Joseph Bermudez and Victor Cha said in a new study of satellite imagery taken Tuesday that steam or smoke was flowing from stacks within the radiochemistry lab in the compound. The lab is used to reprocess spent fuel rods to extract plutonium.

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"This, while not an indicator of a reprocessing campaign itself, indicates that the building is occupied and being heated," the analysts said.

The report also pointed out there was no significant activity related to the Experimental Light Water Reactor or the 5MWe Reactor. The latter facility is believed to be the main production site of weapons-grade plutonium in the country.

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North Korea's most important nuclear facility is being highlighted at a time of ongoing tensions with the United States.

On Monday, the White House said President Joe Biden is not willing to meet in person with Kim Jong Un. Former President Donald Trump met with Kim three times, but diplomacy did not resolve the issue of nuclear weapons development.

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The U.S. State Department issued its 2020 country reports on human rights practices on Tuesday.

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On North Korea, the State Department said COVID-19 has led to greater restrictions and controls in the country, making internal movement difficult for all.

"Non-governmental organizations, foreign diplomats, and U.N. agency personnel were not allowed to leave Pyongyang," the report read. "This severely hampered foreign observers' already extremely limited ability to monitor human rights and humanitarian aid conditions in the country."

The report also pointed out inhuman treatment including torture was confirmed by several defector accounts and NGO reports.

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"Methods of torture and other abuse reportedly included severe beatings; electric shock; prolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such as public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small "punishment cells" in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down," the report stated.

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