North Korea has unveiled a large uranium enrichment facility to a U.S. expert. Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear expert and co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, visited the North early this month and North Korean officials showed him the facility equipped with hundreds of centrifuges, the New York Times reported Sunday.
Hecker said he was "stunned" by the sophisticated installation of centrifuges used to enrich uranium 235, an isotope of uranium making up a mere 0.7 percent of natural uranium, to more than 90 percent.
This facility was unknown to the U.S. and the International Atomic Energy Agency when the last group of inspectors were expelled from the north in April 2009.
Hecker said that the centrifuges were operated from "an ultra-modern control room." "The North Koreans claimed 2,000 centrifuges were already installed and running," the daily quoted him as saying.
A former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Hecker reported to the White House upon arriving in Washington. "These facilities appear to be designed primarily for civilian nuclear power, not to boost North Korea's military capability," Hecker wrote in a report on his visit. But he added it "could be readily converted to produce highly enriched uranium bomb fuel (or parallel facilities could exist elsewhere)."
Meeting reporters in Beijing on Nov. 13 right after he returned from Pyongyang, he also said the North claimed to be building a light-water nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, North Pyongan Province.
The North also showed the construction site of what it said was a 100 MW light-water reactor to Jack Pritchard, the president of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington and a former U.S. nuclear envoy.
The U.S. responded immediately. The Obama administration last Saturday sent a delegation led by Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, to discuss the matter with South Korea, Japan and China, which are partners in six-party talks on the North's nuclear program. He met South Korean officials in Seoul on Sunday and is to fly to Tokyo on Monday and to Beijing on Tuesday.
The U.S. believes the North's uranium enrichment program violates UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 adopted in the aftermath of its two nuclear tests, and is seeking remedies through the UN.