A nuclear reactor that has been inactive since 2018 in North Korea appears to have been reactivated, according to reports.
The plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon has stood inactive for almost three years but was seen discharging cooling water in July, reports The Wall Street Journal.
In an annual report, the International Atomic Energy Agency said the reactor appears to be back in operation.
The report said: "Since early July, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor."
The Journal reported it went on to say the agency found the activity at the plant "deeply troubling" as well as indications a nearby laboratory is being used to separate plutonium from spent fuel removed from the reactor.
North Korea expelled the agency's inspectors from the state in 2009.
Director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, Gary Samore, says the news appears to show the dictator state is ramping up its nuclear weapons programme.
It comes after Kim Yo Jong, sister to tyrant Kim Jong-un, threatened to strengthen North Korea's military in a backlash to joint military exercises between the US and South Korea.
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Earlier this month she warned: "The dangerous war exercises pushed ahead by the US and the South Korean side disregardful of our repeated warnings will surely make them face more serious security threat."
The 33-year-old will succeed the Supreme leader if he dies before his son turns 12.
In May, the country also sent another warning to President Joe Biden after he said nuclear programs in the country and Iran posed a "serious threat" to America's and world security.
The Biden administration has previously said it hopes to find a diplomatic approach and hold talks with Nork Korea, but in March, it said its multiple attempts to reach out to the regime were ignored.
Former State Department official Jole Wit said reopening the Yongbyon reactor indicates "North Korea's nuclear weapons program can't be ignored and needs to be a higher priority for the Biden administration."
It comes after the state admitted it was facing the worse food crisis it has in years and is on the brink of famine.
It's reported leading figures in the country are drumming up nationalist rhetoric to distract the isolated population from the looming starving crisis.
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