The United States and its allies warned North Korea against provocations as researchers reported potential radiation risks due to problems at the regime’s main nuclear complex.
The United States, South Korea and Japan, meeting in Washington after a new period of tension, condemned North Korea’s recent ballistic missile tests and called again for an end to the regime’s nuclear weapons program.
The three nations “urged the DPRK to refrain from further threatening actions,” said a U.S. statement, referring to the North by its official name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
A U.S. think tank, reviewing recent satellite images, said Monday that North Korea’s main Yongbyon nuclear site appeared to have suffered water supply problems due to heavy rain and floods last summer.
An unstable supply could pose radiation risks, especially at North Korea’s first light water reactor, which is near completion, according to the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
The regime does not have experience operating the light water reactor and “the rapid loss of water used to cool the reactor could result in a serious safety problem,” analyst Nick Hansen wrote on the institute’s blog, 38 North.
The 38 North analysis downplayed the risks of a Chernobyl-scale disaster, saying Yongbyon was smaller than the Soviet-built station in Ukraine where a 1986 accident killed 30 people in an explosion and another 2,500 afterward in related illnesses.
“However, a radioactive release into the atmosphere or river would cause an expanded local area of contamination,” the analysis said.
“Also, Pyongyang’s likely lack of transparency could create a regional crisis, panicking the public in surrounding countries and raising tensions with governments anxious for further information.”
North Korea knocked down a vital cooling tower in 2008 as part of a U.S.-backed six-nation disarmament agreement. It has more recently vowed to boost its nuclear “deterrent” and conduct a “new” type of test in response to what the regime describes as US hostility.
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