The 38 North organization, a North Korea think tank, is seeing possible photographic proof of the extraction of plutonium, one of the ingredients of a nuclear bomb at the site. Satellite views showing a tell-tale smoke plume rising from a plant needed in bomb-making.
"This is the first time we’ve seen any signs of activity at this facility in nearly two years," 38 North’s Jenny Town explained to Fox News. "It doesn’t necessarily mean that North Korea has started reprocessing (plutonium) but it could mean that they’re preparing for it."
Earlier this week the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, saying they’re also seeing ominous indications at several locations. "(North Korea’s) nuclear activities remain a cause for serious concern," IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi noted.
This possible new "smoking gun" comes after pronouncements by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in January his regime would continue to build up its nuclear arsenal.
Pyongyang also put on display new weapons in a military parade including ICBM’s capable of being launched from submarines. That could put nuclear-tipped missiles at a closer range to the US.
"North Korea has pretty much given consistent signs that they will continue to build up their (nuclear) program," North Korea expert Town noted.
This following the release of another UN report revealing Pyongyang had not stopped beefing up its nuclear arsenal throughout 2020. Some analysts estimate they have the capability of manufacturing at least 20 bombs now.
And it comes at a time when the new Biden administration is reassessing how the US will deal with the North Korean threat following years of attempted diplomacy including high-level summitry during the Trump era.
Some analysts have suggested activity like that at the Yonbyong nuclear site, along with tough talk and displays in Pyongyang, are meant to send a message to the new President, that Kim Jong Un still means business. Especially at a time when North Korea’s economy is on the ropes dealing with Covid-19 and natural disasters.
"The North Korean side is looking for some sign that action is possible," 38 North’s Jenny Town concluded. "The door to diplomacy is still unlocked…it’s more challenging the US to open the door."
All the while, North Korea and its young leader are busy raising the nuclear stakes.