It's official: North Korea says 'modern' nuclear plant is operating
North Korea boasted Tuesday to running 'thousands' of nuclear centrifuges, a week after launching a deadly artillery attack on South Korea, as China pressed for six-nation crisis talks.
Seoul, South Korea
For the first time, North Korea made its uranium enrichment program a matter of written record Tuesday with the proud claim in the country’s leading newspaper of a modern facility that is already operational.Skip to next paragraph
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That revelation in the Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun marks another step toward North Korea’s emergence as a nuclear power. The North's “modern uranium enrichment plan” was still under construction but was already “equipped with several thousand centrifuges,” according to the newspaper. In recent years Pyongyang has already exploded two nuclear devices with plutonium at their core.
What the international community knew first
North Korea was first revealed to have a uranium enrichment program in 2002, in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States for Pyongyang to give up nuclear development in return for construction of twin light-water nuclear-energy reactors.
The North denied the existence of the program until earlier this year amid the breakdown of talks with the conservative government of South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak, whose inauguration in February 2008 ended a decade of efforts at North-South reconciliation.
North Korean officials earlier this month gave an American team led by nuclear physicist Siegfried Hecker a tour of the plant at the same complex north of Pyongyang where a five-megawatt reactor has produced plutonium for what intelligence analysts estimate is a dozen nuclear devices.
The article in the Rodong Sinmun, the first official revelation in the North Korean state media, appeared to have been timed to coincide with US-led naval exercises concluding Wednesday in the Yellow Sea. It does not clarify, however, whether the new reactor is to produce electrical energy or to fabricate the explosive core of nuclear warheads.
“Nuclear energy development projects will become more active for peaceful purpose in the future,” it says, but that wording leaves open the possibility that the immediate goal is to produce warheads more powerful than those tested underground in October 2006 and May 2009.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry official, Lim Jung-taek, calls North Korea’s boast of building the reactor “quite worrisome” – and “a violation” of United Nations Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions after each of the tests.