Mystery smoke spews from North Korea nuke plant crippled by typhoons sparking fears of Fukushima-style disaster
SMOKE has been spewing from a North Korean nuclear plant as it undergoes repairs after being damaged in a typhoon.
Experts have warned the reactor could be another Fukushima-style disaster waiting to happen after satellite pictures showed it took a battering by storms.
The Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre appeared to have been damaged after a dam which regulates water for the reactor's cooling system was breached.
New satellite images show smoke emanating from a building just south of the uranium enrichment plant.
The building was used to recover and purify uranium from yellowcake, a type of concentrated uranium powder, says specialist website 38 North.
But the site says it’s now is unclear what is taking place.
Meanwhile, repair work is continuing at the cooling water reservoir overflow dam in the Kuryong River.
Imagery from October 27 shows the dike-like structure is complete and the water levels have risen to cover the intake cisterns for the reactors.
A trench sheeting has been installed along the dam breach, forming a solid steel wall capable of stabilizing the dam.
Kim's two reactors at the site were luckily switched off amid the flooding as part of ongoing talks with the US and the regime's great rivals South Korea.
One is a Soviet Union-style reactor, which has been operating intermittently since 1986.
And the other is an experimental reactor, which has not yet been fully switched on since construction started in 2009.
It has previously been warned shoddy safety could cause a catastrophe impacting 100million people.
Damage caused by typhoons that battered North Korea's west coast show the potentially devastating vulnerability of the site, experts say.
They compared the risk to the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan.
North and South Korea, eastern China, south eastern Russia, and Japan's west coast could all be exposed to radiation.
The fear is that the reactor is susceptible to incidents like in Fukushima
While some experts downplayed the immediate threat, they said the damage highlights the potential for the country's crumbling nuclear infrastructure to cause a catastrophe.
Tom Plant, director of proliferation and nuclear policy at the Royal United Services Institute, told The Sun Online the site is “creaking” and doesn’t meet modern safety standards.
He said: “There is a danger of nuclear accidents at these sites, we cannot rule out radiation leakage or fallout.
Mr Plant said: "The real risk is if they were in the middle of operations and there was a huge flood and it knocked out the pumps like it did in Fukushima."
He added: “If for some crazy reason they tried to operate under conditions where the cooling wasn’t working, then all the bad things would happen.
“And there are residual safety concerns about the reactors. The old one is very old and even well regulated reactors of that vintage do not meet modern safety standards.”
The few scientists who have visited the site have also previously noted the reactors appear to be outdated and built using substandard materials.
It has also been warned the highly secretive North Korea's reluctance to engage with other nations could cause a Chernobyl-style information blackout in a disaster.
Soviet Union officials famously failed to announce the infamous nuclear accident at the plant in Ukraine until the West had already detected a radiation cloud over Europe.
Dr Ramon Pacheco-Pardo, an associate professor in international relations at King's College London, said the site was “susceptible to incidents like in Fukushima”, where the site was left “a no-go area where it’s not safe to live anymore”.
"The fear is that the reactor is susceptible to incidents like in Fukushima," he said.
"Japan was ultimately able to contain the damage, but even then it was still left a no-go area and its not safe anymore to live there.
"If there was bigger damage to Yongbyong than there is currently, North Korea would not be able to contain the problems."
The expert questioned how safe the North Korean reactors are even without damage given the secretive state's lack of resources and apparent lax safety procedures.
'CREAKING WITH AGE'
North Korea's Soviet-style reactor is 34 years old, right at the end of its operational life, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Dr Pacheco-Pardo explained the reactor should have been decommissioned and replaced, but this is not an option for cash-strapped North Korea.
And should there be a disaster, he suggested it is likely North Korea would only notify China and Russia, leaving the West and its allies to find out themselves.
But he added it's unlikely North Korea will seek to restart the reactors any time soon as it battles the aftermath of the typhoon, famine, and the coronavirus pandemic.
What happened in Fukishima?
THE FUKUSHIMA Disaster is the second worse accident in the history of nuclear power – behind only Chernobyl.
It happened on March 11, 2011 at the Fukushima Dai-ichi site in northern Japan.
A tsunami that was triggered by the Tōhoku earthquake damaged the backup generators at the plant.
All three of reactors that were operating were successfully shutdown, but the loss of power caused the cooling systems to fail within days.
The government was forced to declare an 20-km evacuation zone and 154,000 residents has to flee.
No one was killed in the initial crisis, but 32 deaths have since been tied to the disaster.
Some 39 people were injured, including two workers who suffered radiation burns.
Predications have suggested hundreds living nearby however may die of cancer in the future.
Meanwhile, the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami killed over 15,000 people – one the biggest disasters ever to hit Japan.
In a report published in 2018, Dr Oleg Scheka, who previously worked for coordinating environmental cooperation between Russia and North Korea, laid out the dire threat posed by a North Korean nuclear disaster.
He noted Russian experts who helped North Korea build industrial facilities noted the regime's "willingness to cut corners" on safety for the sake of speed.
Dr Scheka warned 100million people across the Koreas, Russia, China and Japan could be impacted by a reactor failure in North Korea.
Numerous warnings have been made over the years of the danger of North Korea's potentially-poorly managed and maintained nuclear sites.
North Korea also saw a collapse at at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in 2017 that killed as many as 200 people and sparked fears of a radiation leak.
In 2014, South Korean president Park Geun-hye warned that a fire at Yongbyon "could lead to a disaster potentially worse than Chernobyl".
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