Recent satellite pictures suggest that North Korea has revived a 5 megawatt nuclear reactor, shut down in 2007 under disarmament agreement terms, that yields bomb grade plutonium.
According to a report from the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, satellite imagery shows white steam rising from a turbine near the reactor. The steam is a by-product of the facility's operation and indicates that the reactor's power generator is nearing operation.
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, told the New York Times that although the steam suggested the reactor had been restarted, it wouldn't be able to generate plutonium until it has been operating for two to three years.
"You want to get confirmation because you never know [with North Korea]," he said. "They can surprise you…but I can't think of any alternative explanations."
The main reactor at the Yongbyon facility was shut down in 2007 following negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear monitoring arm of the United Nations. North Korea agreed to shut down the reactor in exchange for $25 million, funds that have since been frozen by the U.S. Treasury in a Chinese bank in Macau.
In February, North Korea confirmed it had completed its third successful nuclear test in seven years – the first under leader Kim Jong Un – despite urges from international leaders to refrain from pursuing further nuclear capabilities. The U.N. Security Council responded by unanimously passing sanctions to impede North Korean banks from funding the regime's nuclear program.
North Korea's national media reported in April that Pyongyang was planning to restart the Yongbyon reactor. A spokesman for the General Department of Atomic Energy told KCNA that the plant opening would combat "the acute shortage of electricity."
The plant restart comes at a time where relations between North and South Korea have cooled. At the end of August, the North and South agreed to a program aimed at reuniting families that were separated during the Korean War. South Korea also promised $8.4 million in aid earlier this month to improve medical services for malnourished children in the North.