North Korea vows to restart nuclear facilities

2013-04-02 11:39

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Seoul – North Korea has vowed to restart a nuclear reactor that can make one bomb’s worth of plutonium a year, escalating tensions already raised by near daily warlike threats against the United States and South Korea.

The North’s plutonium reactor was shut down in 2007 as part of international nuclear disarmament talks that have since stalled.

The declaration of a resumption of plutonium production – the most common fuel in nuclear weapons – and other facilities at the main Nyongbyon nuclear complex will boost fears in Washington and among its allies about North Korea’s timetable for building a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the United States, technology it is not currently believed to have.

A spokesperson for the North’s General Department of Atomic Energy said scientists will begin work at a uranium enrichment plant and a graphite-moderated 5 megawatt reactor, which generates spent fuel rods laced with plutonium and is the core of the Nyongbyon nuclear complex.

The unidentified spokesperson said the measure is part of efforts to resolve the country’s acute electricity shortage, but also for “bolstering up the nuclear armed force both in quality and quantity,” according to a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test in February, prompting a new round of UN sanctions that have infuriated its leaders and led to a torrent of threatening rhetoric.

The United States has sent nuclear-capable bombers and stealth jets to participate in annual South Korean-US military drills the allies call routine, but Pyongyang claims are invasion preparations.

North Korea has declared that the armistice ending the Korean War in 1953 is void, threatened to launch nuclear and rocket strikes on the United States and, most recently, declared at a high-level government assembly that making nuclear arms and a stronger economy are the nation’s top priorities.

The threats are seen as efforts to force policy changes in Seoul and Washington and increase domestic loyalty to young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by portraying him as a powerful military force.

“North Korea is keeping tension and crisis alive to raise stakes ahead of possible future talks with the United States,” said Hwang Jihwan, a North Korea expert at the University of Seoul.

“North Korea is asking the world, ‘What are you going to do about this?’”

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