- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

North Korea has restarted a nuclear reactor as part of its drive to resume building nuclear weapons, U.S. officials said yesterday.
The five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon had been frozen under the 1994 Agreed Framework pact with the United States that was to have frozen Pyongyang's nuclear-arms program.
U.S. officials said recent intelligence indicates the reactor has been restarted after several weeks of unsuccessful attempts.
"There are indications it has just restarted," a U.S. official said.
Only 24 hours earlier, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters traveling with him from Asia that the reactor had not been restarted.
The CIA estimates that the old Soviet-era reactor will take nearly a year "under the best circumstances" for the reactor to produce plutonium, a fuel used in atom bombs.
A U.S. official familiar with intelligence reports said the reactor activity "demonstrates North Korea's desire to continue to develop nuclear weapons and put pressure on the United States."
Earlier, intelligence officials said the North Koreans had problems getting the reactor started.
Mr. Powell told reporters traveling with him from South Korea on Tuesday that the nuclear problem was urgent because the fuel rods for the reactor at Yongbyon never left the facility under the 1994 agreement.
"And so they have always been able to, whenever they wanted to, cut the seals, start the reactor, start the reprocessing," Mr. Powell said. "So far they have chosen, for reasons that I won't speculate on, they've chosen not to start the reactor or the reprocessing facility. I think that's a wise choice if it's a conscious choice, and not just the fact they haven't gotten it to the point yet where they can start it."
Mr. Powell said the situation is serious but that the administration is "not going to be panicked by their misbehavior."
Chuck Downs, a former U.S. government specialist on North Korea, disputed Mr. Powell's contention that the North Koreans had in any way held off from restarting the reactor.
"If there was a time when they couldn't get it restarted, it was probably not a signal to us of any interest in complying, and so it should not be taken as some kind of gesture," Mr. Downs said in an interview.
An unclassified CIA assessment of North Korea's nuclear program made public in November concluded that restarting the reactor would generate about 13 pounds of plutonium per year. It takes about 11 pounds of plutonium for one bomb.
Restarting the reactor is the latest event in the standoff with North Korea that began in October, when a North Korean official revealed that the government was secretly working on a facility that will produce enriched uranium, another fuel for nuclear weapons.
On Monday, North Korea test fired a cruise missile in a sign that Pyongyang may begin flight testing longer-range missiles.
In addition to the five-megawatt reactor, North Korea has a 50-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon and a 200-megawatt reactor under construction.
Henry Sokolski, director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said restarting the reactor was expected.
"It's pretty clear that the North Koreans are trying to get our attention in the worst possible way," Mr. Sokolski said. "What they are telegraphing now is that they intend to get their bombs."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide