North Korea says main nuclear complex operational, warns US

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North Korea May Be Running Its Main Nuclear Facility

North Korea said on Tuesday its main nuclear complex was operating and it was working to improve the "quality and quantity" of its weapons which it could use against the United States at "any time".

The comments follow a declaration by the North in 2013 vowing to restart all nuclear facilities, including the main nuclear reactor in Yongbyon that had been shuttered.

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It marked the first acknowledgement since then that the plant, which has been the source of fissile material used in the country's atomic weapons program, is operational, experts said.

"All the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon including the uranium enrichment plant and 5 MW graphite-moderated reactor were rearranged, changed or readjusted and they started normal operation," the North's state-run KCNA news agency said, quoting the director of its atomic agency.

"If the U.S. and other hostile forces persistently seek their reckless hostile policy towards the DPRK and behave mischievously, the DPRK is fully ready to cope with them with nuclear weapons any time," the director was quoted as saying.

See satellite photos of North Korea's nuclear facilities:

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North Korean nuclear facilities
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North Korea says main nuclear complex operational, warns US
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - JULY 2, 2015: Figure 3. Transformer Yard at the ELWR. Date: July 2, 2015. Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Mandatory credit: Image © 2015 DigitalGlobe Inc./38 North.
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - JULY 2, 2015: Figure 4. Construction at the Uranium Enrichment Facility. Date: July 2, 2015. Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Mandatory credit: Image © 2015 DigitalGlobe Inc./38 North.
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - JULY 2, 2015: Figure 1. Vehicles at the 5 MWe Reactor. Date: July 2, 2015. Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Mandatory credit: Image © 2015 DigitalGlobe Inc./38 North.
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - APRIL 29, 2015: Figure 2. Probable CO2 truck seen at the 5 MWe Reactor in April. Date April 29, 2015. Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Mandatory credit: Image © 2015 DigitalGlobe Inc./38 North.
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - May 24, 2015: Figure 4. Continued construction at the uranium enrichment facility. Note: image rotated. Date: May 24, 2015. Published on 38 North. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - NOVEMBER 4, 2014: This is Figure 3 -- DigitalGlobe imagery shows new activity seen at the Radiochemical Laboratory. Note: image rotated -- published on 38 North. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - JANUARY 11, 2015: This is Figure 4B. ELWR activity in January 2015. Note: image rotated. Date: January 11, 2015 -- published on 38 North. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - May 24, 2015: Figure 3: 5 MWe Reactor on May 24vehicles present, no indications of steam or water discharge. Note: image rotated. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - May 24, 2015: Figure 2. Power line service to 5 MWe Reactor area. Note: image rotated. Date: May 24, 2015. Published on 38 North. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 28, 2014: This is Figure 1 -- DigitalGlobe imagery of the 5 MWe Reactor appears to still be shutdown -- published on 38 North. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 27th, 2015: Figure 6a. Construction material visible at the Main Support Area at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site in North Korea. Date: March 27, 2015. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MAY 16, 2015: Figure 6b. An old building has been re-roofed and a new building has been erected at the Main Support Area at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site in North Korea. Date: May 16, 2015 (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 7, 2013: This is Figure 9. a time progression of the experimental light water reactor (ELWR) development at the Yongbyon Nuclear Facility in North Korea. Featured in “Start-Up of North Korean Experimental Light Water Reactor Could Begin by Mid-2013 If Fuel is Available,” published on 38 North. Figure 9: February 7, 2013 (reactor building complete, cleanup underway). (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
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DPRK is the abbreviation of the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The country often makes threats against the United States and South Korea.

Innovations have been made to improve nuclear weapons "in quality and quantity as required by the prevailing situation", the director was quoted as saying.

Isolated and impoverished, North Korea's nuclear program is a key source of international leverage and a means of protecting the third-generation dictatorship of the Kim family.

The country is believed to be working towards developing an intercontinental ballistic missile mounted with an atomic warhead that can hit targets in the mainland United States.

MISSILE TEST?

Late on Monday, the North's space agency said it was readying a new satellite for launch, indicating it may fire an upgraded long-range ballistic missile timed to around the 70th anniversary of its ruling party on Oct. 10.

Any such launch would violate international sanctions although the North insists it would be part of a space program for peaceful purposes.

North Korea is believed by experts to have enough fissile material to build 12 or more nuclear weapons, and is believed by U.S. and South Korean officials to be working to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to mount on a delivery vehicle.


See photos of Kim Jong-Un's sometimes odd public appearances:

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Kim Jong Un's adventures
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North Korea says main nuclear complex operational, warns US
This picture taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 12, 2012 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un celebrating the launch of the Unha-3 rocket, carrying the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, at the general satellite control and command center in Pyongyang. Hundreds of thousands of North Korean soldiers and civilians rallied on December 14 in the centre of Pyongyang for a mass celebration of the country's long-range rocket launch, state television showed. (Photo by KNS via AFP/Getty Images)
This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 12, 2014 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting the command of Korean People's Army (KPA) Unit 534. (Photo by KNS via AFP/Getty Images)
Photo provided by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Oct. 26, 2014, shows top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the completed Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage. The facility has over 250 rooms for nursing, education, physical exercise, and treatment, as well as outdoor and indoor wading pools, parks and various amusement equipment for children. (Photo: Xinhua/KCNA/Corbis)
Photo provided by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Oct. 26, 2014, shows top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the completed Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage. The facility has over 250 rooms for nursing, education, physical exercise, and treatment, as well as outdoor and indoor wading pools, parks and various amusement equipment for children. (Photo: Xinhua/KCNA/Corbis)
This picture taken from North Korean paper Rodong Sinmun on October 14, 2014 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) during an inspection tour of a newly-built housing complex in Pyongyang.  North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un has finally resurfaced with the help of a walking stick after an unexplained and prolonged absence that fuelled rampant speculation about his health and even rumours of a coup in the nuclear-armed state. (AFP PHOTO / Rodong Sinmun)
This picture taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 12, 2012 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (lower L) celebrating with staffs from the satellite control center during the launch of the Unha-3 rocket, carrying the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, at the general satellite control and command center in Pyongyang. North Korea's leader has ordered more satellite launches, state media said on December 14, 2012, two days after Pyongyang's long-range rocket launch triggered global outrage and UN condemnation. (Photo by KNS via AFP/Getty Images)
This undated picture, released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 17, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting the February 20 factory of the Korean People's Army (KPA), producing varieties of foodstuff at undisclosed place in North Korea. (Photo by KNS via AFP/Getty Images)
Kim Jong Un flashes his computer skills for gathered North Korean officials. (KCNA/Reuters/Corbis)
This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 28, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) inspecting the August 25 Fishery Station under the Korean People's Army (KPA) Unit 313.(Photo by KCNA via AFP/Getty Images)
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China, the North's main ally, said on Tuesday it opposed nuclear weapons development on the Korean peninsula.

"We hope the relevant parties, under the current circumstances, can do more that is beneficial to safeguarding the peace and stability of the region and the peninsula," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing.

North Korea conducted three nuclear tests between 2006 and 2013, drawing international condemnation. China joined the U.N. Security Council in a sanctions resolution after the 2013 test.

Recent satellite imagery of the Yongbyon complex indicated new activity there, according to a report last week by 38 North, a website run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.

The activities could be part of work to produce new nuclear material that would be a step toward adding to the country's nuclear stockpile, 38 North said.

"It has been nearly three years since their last nuclear test and now may be the time for them to test their evolved technology," said Park Jiyoung, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Tony Munroe and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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