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South Korea says North Korea restarts plutonium reactor shut since 2007

Seoul, Oct 9 (): North Korea restarted its Yongbyon plutonium reactor, a South Korean lawmaker said Tuesday, as the North put its troops on high alert and said it’s “ready to confront” the U.S. and the South over naval drills set for this week.

South Korea’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) said in a report to parliament that the five megawatt reactor at the North’s Yongbyon nuclear complex had resumed operations, according to a joint briefing by ruling and opposition party lawmakers. The office of another lawmaker Cho Won Jin and Jung Chung-rae also have confirmed the spy service and presented a similar assessment. Jung’s office cited the spy agency as saying North Korea also conducted missile engine tests at a north-western site in August.

North Korea has restarted the nuclear reactor that stopped operations in 2007, in a move certain to increase pressures on the Korean peninsula ahead of planned military drills by the U.S., South Korea, and Japan.

In April, North Korea said it would restart the reactor but has not confirmed that it has done so. Recent satellite photos have shown marks that the reactor may be operating.

In reports released last month by US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and another Washington think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, it was reported they observed steam coming from the reactor.

Earlier on Tuesday, North Korea’s state news agency announced that its troops had been positioned on emergency alert and had been given the permission to launch operations at any time against the drills.

Tensions on the peninsula have intensified since February, when North Korea tried its third nuclear device and then threatened first strikes against the U.S. and South Korea over UN sanctions imposed after the Feb. 12 blast. Two months later, North Korea boasted that it would restart all facilities at Yongbyon to bolster its atomic arsenal.

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