April 03, 2013 09:14
North Korea on Tuesday threatened to restart a nuclear reactor it shut down under an international agreement in 2008, which would enable it to produce more nuclear weapons-grade plutonium.
"We are taking action to refurbish and reactivate the reactor together with all other nuclear facilities in Yongbyon including a uranium enrichment plant," the North's official KCNA news agency cited a spokesman for the General Department of Atomic Energy as saying.
"The decision is in line with our two-track strategies of building the economy and developing nuclear power at the same time."
The threat comes amid rising tensions on the peninsula over international sanctions against the isolated state’s latest nuclear test.
In a highly publicized stunt, the North blew up the cooling tower at the 5MW Yongbyon nuclear reactor in June 2008 as part of its pledge to scrap the nuclear facility.
Restarting it would allow North Korea to make nuclear weapons by extracting plutonium from highly radioactive fuel rods that can no longer be used to make electricity.
Pyongyang agreed in six-party nuclear talks in October 2007 to shut down the facility and demolished the cooling tower the following year as part of its pledge to halt the production and reprocessing of nuclear fuel rods.
U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim, who was in charge of Korean affairs at the State Department at the time, traveled to North Korea in June 2008 to witness the demolition, which was broadcast live on CNN. The same year then U.S. president George W. Bush in turn removed North Korea from a blacklist of terror-sponsoring countries.
"There were some concerns at the time that the demolition was aimed at deceiving the international community," said Yun Duk-min at Korea National Diplomatic Academy. "Now it has become clear that it was just a show. North Korea has repeatedly scrapped agreements with the international community after getting what it wants."
Experts believe it is theoretically possible to restart the reactor without the cooling tower. They say the North could produce enough fissile material to conduct at least one more nuclear test within a year if it restarts the graphite-moderated reactor.
North Korea claims that the purpose of the Yongbyon facility is to generate electricity, but the latest announcement makes it clear that it was always intended to produce nuclear weapons.
Chun Sung-hoon at the Korea Institute for National Unification said, "The latest announcement shows that any agreements with the North to freeze its nuclear program are meaningless."
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com