On Wednesday, North Korea released a statement confirming the resumption of its plutonium production program at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, asserting that the country has no intention to stop nuclear testing until the threat posed by the United States has subsided.
"We have reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods removed from a graphite-moderated reactor," the DPRK’s Atomic Energy Institute (AEI), which holds jurisdiction over North Korea’s nuclear facilities, said in a written statement to Kyodo News.
The remarks from the AEI mark a first-ever response to foreign media questions, in what could be conceived as a North Korean nuclear charm offensive designed to posture the nascent nuclear weapons program as defensive rather than provocative.
The statement asserted that Pyongyang has been producing highly enriched uranium for the production of nuclear arms, and that the project is proceeding "as scheduled." The AEI, however, refused to disclose the amount of plutonium or enriched uranium that the DPRK has produced, archly suggesting that they would leave that to the imagination of Western "experts."
In February, US intelligence director James Clapper said, in a report to Congress, that North Korea was able to convert plutonium, a core material used in nuclear weapons, from spent reactor fuel rods within a matter of weeks, sounding alarms for expanding atomic capability within the volatile regime of Kim Jong-un.
In 2013, North Korea vowed to restart a five-megawatt reactor and other nuclear facilities at the Yongbyon complex, after having suspended their atomic program in 2007 pursuant to an agreement reached in six-party talks.
The research center raised the possibility that the DPRK may soon conduct a fifth nuclear test, claiming that North Korea had succeeded in "minimizing, making lighter and diversifying nuclear weapons." It was this last development, which national security assessments suggested months earlier, that has caused the most concern, as it marks a critical step toward Pyongyang being able to load nuclear weapons onto ICBMs that are capable of delivering deadly payloads across the world.
North Korea remains adamant that their actions are not for the sake of provocation, but necessary to preserve and protect their society claiming, "Under conditions that the United States constantly threatens us with nuclear weapons, we will not discontinue tests."
The United States has responded to the increasingly hostile rhetoric and actions of the Kim Jong-un administration by moving to install the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea, drawing criticism from China and Russia.