SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's main intelligence agency confirmed on Tuesday that North Korea has restarted a Soviet-era nuclear reactor that has been used to obtain plutonium for bombs, according to South Korean legislators.
Nuclear experts in the United States, including at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, reported last month that satellite photographs indicated that North Korea had restarted the five-megawatt reactor at its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, the capital.
Two lawmakers -- Cho Won-jin from the governing party and Jung Cheong-rae from the opposition -- told reporters at a joint news briefing on Tuesday that Nam Jae-joon, the director of the National Intelligence Service of South Korea, confirmed the restart during a closed parliamentary session. The two lawmakers were designated by their parties to relay the news to reporters.
A spokesman for the intelligence service refused to confirm or deny the legislators' comments.
North Korea has yet to confirm the reported resumption of nuclear activity, although it had repeatedly warned that it was preparing to restart it after a six-year hiatus.
Until the North shut the reactor down in 2007 in a short-lived nuclear disarmament deal with the United States, the reactor's spent fuel was the country's source of plutonium fuel for weapons. American intelligense officials estimate that the North, which conducted three underground nuclear tests between 2006 and February of this year, secured enough plutonium from reprocessing the spent fuel to build as many as a dozen bombs.
The country has also said it is running a program that can provide it with another type of bomb fuel: highly enriched uranium.
The resumption of activity at the Yongbyon reactor, coupled with the North's uranium enrichment program, is likely to increase international concerns over the North's nuclear capabilities and its potential to export nuclear materials and technologies to other states.
Also on Tuesday, North Korea said it had put its military on high alert, warning the United States of "disastrous consequences" for moving a group of ships, including an aircraft carrier, into a South Korean port for a military exercise. But the exercise, scheduled to begin on Tuesday, was postponed because of a typhoon.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 8, 2013 2:01 PM