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A person watching news footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaking in Pyongyang in January 2021. Photo: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea appears to have resumed operations at a key nuclear reactor that is believed to produce fuel for nuclear weapons, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency said in a report dated Friday.

Why it matters: The move suggests North Korea is working to enlarge its nuclear arsenal after denuclearization talks with the U.S. stalled during the Trump administration.

What they're saying: The International Atomic Energy Agency said there have been indications of operations at the reactor in North Korea's main nuclear complex in Yongbyon since July 2021.

  • "There were no indications of reactor operation from early December 2018 to the beginning of July 2021. However, since early July 2021, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor," the IAEA said.
  • The nuclear watchdog said evidence also suggests North Korea operated a laboratory at Yongbyon for five months to extract plutonium, a key fuel for nuclear weapons, from nuclear waste.
  • It did not observe operations at a centrifuge facility used for enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels, though regular vehicular movements were seen.

Between the lines: The IAEA did not have direct access to Yongbyon because North Korea kicked its inspectors out of the country in 2009. The watchdog instead primarily used satellite imagery to monitor developments at the nuclear complex.

  • "The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable," IAEA said.

The big picture: Though President Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in reaffirmed the importance of North Korea's denuclearization in May, North Korea has not reengaged with the U.S. for denuclearization talks since they broke down after the second summit between Kim Jong-un and former President Trump in 2019.

  • Kim said in June that his country should prepare for dialogue and especially "confrontation" with the U.S. in order "to protect the dignity of our state and its interests for independent development."

Go deeper: Biden extends sanctions against North Korea

Go deeper

Oct 13, 2021 - World

UN report: North Korea faces growing food crisis, economic hardship

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

North Korea faces a growing food crisis that has left children and elderly people at risk of starvation, a UN investigator said in a report out Wednesday.

Driving the news: Prolonged and strict measures implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19 have worsened conditions in the isolated Asian nation and have lead to "severe economic hardship," per the report.

California governor declares drought emergency for entire state

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speakinng to reporters in Los Angeles in September. Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) extended a drought emergency declaration to cover the entire state on Tuesday.

Why it matters: "California is experiencing its worst drought since the late 1800s, as measured by both lack of precipitation and high temperatures," per a statement from the governor's office. This past August was the driest and hottest one on record, "and the water year that ended last month was the second driest on record," the statement added.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Reports: Brazil leader to be accused of crimes against humanity over COVID

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Andressa Anholete/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Brazilian Senate panel will recommend President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with "crimes against humanity," alleging his COVID-19 pandemic response led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, per the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The latest: The lawmakers initially said Bolsonaro should be charged with mass homicide and genocide, but lawmakers updated the report to replace these recommendations with the new charge, its lead author, Sen. Renan Calheiros, told the NYT.