Go to contents

N. Korea About to Start Nuclear Reprocessing

Posted March. 02, 2003 22:49,   


Major US and Japanese newspapers reported on Saturday that North Korea is making preparations to begin operation of its nuclear reprocessing facility to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Ever since reactivation of the 5MW Yongbyon reactor in the middle of last week, North Korea has heightened the level of its nuclear threat. If the North resumes operation of this facility, nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula seem likely to enter into another new and serious phase. The United States will probably consider this action to be crossing the limits of acceptability.

Experts on North Korea and intelligence officials have told President Bush that in the next few weeks the North will restart a reprocessing plant that can produce weapons-grade plutonium, reported the newspaper.

Spy satellites show a steady stream of activity around the reprocessing plant, and detected a test last month of the power system that would have to be activated before the country`s stockpile of 8,000 spent fuel rods could be turned into plutonium, said the newspaper, citing several officials with intelligence sources. The officials are also quoted as saying that they believe North Korea might time the move to coincide with the start of military action against Iraq.

"Once they start reprocessing, it`s one bomb a month from now until summer," a senior official said.

"North Korea was also observed moving coal to the boiler near the Yongbyon reprocessing facility. In early February, this year, smoke was detected coming out of the boiler," Kyodo News said on Saturday. The boiler is used for maintaining the temperature of the nitric acid fluid, which melts the protective coating on the spent fuel rods when enriching plutonium.

If North Korea starts reprocessing the spent fuel rods, the United States will most likely take a series of actions, reported The Asahi Shimbun on Saturday, citing a Bush administration official.

"Reprocessing 8,000 rods will produce enough plutonium for making six or nine nukes. The United States will never allow this situation to take place," the official was also quoted as saying.

State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher warned that North Korea`s actions for planning to reprocess these fuel rods will become a serious issue for the whole international community.

maypole@donga.com sechepa@donga.com