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Activity is continuing at North Korea's main nuclear site as Kim Jong-un admitted the country is facing is facing its "worst-ever situation".
Satellite imagery showing increased activity at the hub has led experts to speculate whether the reclusive state is ramping up its nuclear programme.
A coal-fired steam plant had been seen in operation at North Korea's Youngbyon Nuclear Science and Weapons Research Centre, about 100km of the country's capital Pyongyang.
The country has also fired weapons in recent weeks in an apparent show of strength to new US president Joe Biden, and now the satellite imagery suggests the "heightened activity" is continuing.
North Korea analysis site 38 North said: "Commercial satellite imagery of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center indicates that heightened activity at the Radiochemical Laboratory (RCL) since late February is continuing.
"Currently, there is no definitive evidence that the coal-fired Thermal (Steam) Plant, which supplies steam to the RCL, is operating for the purpose of a new campaign to extract plutonium from spent fuel (reprocessing).
"Plausible alternative explanations include that the North Koreans plan to process radioactive waste or conduct some type of operational maintenance."
In March North Korea fired two ballistic missiles in an apparent test to Mr Biden.
The US president is keen to get the hermit state to engage in talks about its nuclear programme, but North Korea instead launched the projectiles from its east coast.
It had been a year since the country had last launched a missile. Mr Biden claimed the launch was not "provocation" and claimed it was "business as usual".
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The activity at the nuclear plant comes as the country's dictator said it is facing its "worst-ever situation" amid a flatlining economy and the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kim was speaking to thousands of members of his ruling party during a political conference in the capital Pyongyang, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
He said: "Improving the people's living standards, even in the worst-ever situation in which we have to overcome unprecedentedly numerous challenges depends on the role played by the cells, the grassroots organisations of the party."
Kim urged people at the meeting to carry out the decisions made, including to bolster his nuclear deterrent in the face of US pressure.
It continued a busy week for North Korea who on Tuesday became the first country to pull out of the Tokyo Olympics over coronavirus fears.
- North Korea Dprk
- Kim Jong Un
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