North Korea Continues to Develop Nuclear Weapons Despite Sanctions

Michael Song, April 6, 2016, 3:43 p.m.

North Korea is still carrying out suspicious activities at the Yongbyon nuclear fuel reprocessing facility, the website 38 North reported Tuesday. Observers noted exhaust plumes from a steam plant even though fuel prices have jumped 53 percent a month after fresh international sanctions against the North over its nuclear and missile programs. This suggests the regime is prepared to sacrifice everything else to its nuclear program and risk another famine rather than cave in.

The Daily NK reported that gasoline prices rose from 7,000 North Korean won per liter late last month to 10,700 won according to a source in Ryanggang Province. Many private sellers of gasoline in the North mix jet fuel stolen from Air Force units with other kinds of fuel.  It was probably the shortage of jet fuel as a result of sanctions that has led to an increase in pump prices.

Another source cited rumors that commodity prices in big cities like Pyongyang and Sinuiju have risen about 20 percent and the locals are getting nervous. But the nuclear program steams ahead. “During the past five weeks, exhaust plumes on two, possibly three, occasions were observed at the Radiochemical Laboratory’s Thermal Plant" in Yongbyon, 38 North said. "This activity is unusual since exhaust plumes have rarely been seen there and none have been observed on any examined imagery this past winter."

The reprocessing facility is designed to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons. There is speculation that the North is frantically trying to secure more material for another nuclear test before fuel supplies run out. In testimony at the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee in February, National Intelligence Director James Clapper claimed the North Koreans could start gathering plutonium in a few weeks.

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