The CIA has revised an earlier intelligence estimate and now believes North Korea has begun reprocessing spent nuclear-fuel rods into plutonium for weapons, U.S. officials said.
Reprocessing the 8,000 stored nuclear fuel rods would be a key indicator that Pyongyang has abandoned past commitments to freeze its nuclear-arms program.
A review of intelligence on the nuclear-rod reprocessing began in April after North Korea’s representative to nuclear talks with the United States and China in Beijing stated that the reprocessing was nearly finished.
The CIA review included re-examining intelligence that showed North Korea had imported plutonium secretly from Russia or a former Soviet republic during the 1990s. It could not be learned whether that intelligence was confirmed.
A senior U.S. official familiar with the review said the new estimate states that “some” reprocessing could be under way.
“If it is, we don’t believe it is anywhere near completed,” the official said.
A senior Asian diplomat also said new intelligence reports indicate that the fuel reprocessing is under way, although not completed.
In April, the CIA reported that North Korea was not separating the fuel, although trucks that could move the rods to a reprocessing facility had been seen at the storage facility at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
No reprocessing, however, had been detected before Li Gun, the North Korean negotiator at the Beijing talks last April, stated that it was nearly finished.
Mr. Li also told Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly in an aside during the talks that North Korea planned to export nuclear weapons or add to its existing nuclear arsenal. U.S. officials view the statement as a threat and say Pyongyang will not blackmail the United States.
The United States wants to expand any new talks to include representatives of South Korea and Japan.
The fuel rods were taken from a 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon and stored in cannisters in a fuel pond that had been sealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency according to the terms of a 1994 agreement between North Korea and the United States to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear program in exchange for economic and energy aid.
The storage program was completed in April 2000.
North Korea announced last year that it had a secret program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. It then expelled international inspectors who had been monitoring the nuclear weapons freeze and restarted the small 5-megawatt reactor.View Entire Story
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