North Korea said yesterday it was making rapid progress in enriching uranium and building a new reactor — projects which experts say could give it a second way to make nuclear weapons.
“The construction of an experimental LWR [light-water reactor] and the low-enriched uranium for the provision of raw materials are progressing apace,” a foreign ministry spokesman told the official news agency.
The spokesman rejected demands by the US and its allies that the uranium enrichment plant be shut down before long-stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks can resume.
North Korea says the uranium plant at its Yongbyon atomic complex will fuel the LWR, which in turn will be used to generate electricity.
“The right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy is an issue vital for the sovereignty and development of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and, therefore, neither concession nor compromise should be allowed,” the spokesman said.
The announcement appeared to put a damper on diplomatic efforts to revive the six-party talks, which the North abandoned in April, 2009. One month later it staged its second atomic weapons test.
North Korea wants talks without preconditions and says its uranium enrichment program — first disclosed to visiting US experts a year ago — can be discussed at the forum.
The US says the North must first show it is serious about the talks, which have dragged on since 2003, by shutting down the program. The negotiations also group South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking at an aid forum in the southern South Korean city of Busan, called on the North “to take concrete steps that promote peace and stability and denuclearization.”
Siegfried Hecker, one of the US experts who visited Yongbyon in November last year, said both the experimental light-water reactor and the uranium enrichment plant appeared designed mainly for civilian nuclear power.
However, he said the plant could readily be converted to produce highly enriched uranium for bombs and the LWR could be run to produce plutonium.
A Web site that published satellite photos said in November that the North had made significant progress in building the new reactor, but it was unlikely to become operational for two to three years.
Pyongyang’s official news agency has previously said the reactor would start operating soon, but gave no date.
The North said yesterday the peaceful use of nuclear energy is the only way to solve its “acute electricity problem,” a claim contested by analysts.
It said it has nothing to hide about its uranium program and accused the US of using it as an obstacle to a negotiated settlement of the nuclear issue.
The spokesman said attempts to make the “peaceful nuclear activities” illegal or to delay them indefinitely “will prompt resolute and decisive countermeasures.”