U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that reports North Korea has a new uranium enrichment plant gives the North the potential to build more nuclear bombs. Gates said the report is consistent with North Korea’s long-standing willingness to ignore United Nations sanctions and its attempts to export weapons.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC television Sunday that reports North Korea is expanding its nuclear activities indicate the reclusive nation is continuing on a path to destabilize the region. He said the new nuclear complex may be connected with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s succession plan for his son, Jong-un.
Mullen says the United States has to keep working with its allies in the six-party talks, especially China, to bring pressure on the North Korean leader.
American nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker recently visited North Korea and says he was shown a new plant at Yongbyon with more than 1,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium. Hecker says he was stunned by the sophistication of the new facility and the speed with which it was built.
North Korean officials say the new plant is an experimental light water reactor which is used exclusively for power.
Another expert who toured Yongbyon with Hecker, Robert Carlin of California's Stanford University says that the North likely got help with the new facility from Pakistan or Iran. He says the North Korean nuclear industry is operating at a higher level than people imagined.
Some information in this story was provided by AFP and Reuters.