- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

SEOUL — North Korea said Wednesday it is making rapid progress on work to enrich uranium and build a light-water nuclear power plant, increasing worries that the country is developing another way to make atomic weapons.

Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry said construction of an experimental light-water reactor and low-enriched uranium are “progressing apace.”

The statement added that North Korea has a sovereign right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy and that “neither concession nor compromise should be allowed.”

The statement by an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman was carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Concerns about North Korea’s atomic capability took on renewed urgency in November 2010, when the country disclosed the existence of a uranium enrichment facility that could give it a second route to manufacture nuclear weapons, in addition to its existing plutonium-based program.

North Korea has been building a light-water reactor at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex since last year.

Such a reactor is ostensibly for civilian energy purposes, but it would give the North a reason to enrich uranium. At low levels, uranium can be used in power reactors, but at higher levels it can be used in nuclear bombs.

Earlier this month, North Korean state media said “the day is near at hand” when the reactor will begin operation.

Washington worries about reported progress on the reactor construction, saying it would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking to reporters Wednesday at an international aid forum in the South Korean port city of Busan, didn’t address the North’s statement on uranium.

She called the U.S.-South Korean alliance strong and mentioned the recent one-year anniversary of North Korea’s artillery attack on a front-line South Korean island that killed four people.

“Let me reaffirm that the United States stands with our ally, and we look to North Korea to take concrete steps that promote peace and stability and denuclearization,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Five countries, including the United States, have been in on-again, off-again talks with North Korea to provide Pyongyang with aid in exchange for disarmament. North Korea pulled out of the nuclear disarmament talks in early 2009 to protest international condemnation of its prohibited long-range rocket test.

In recent months, North Korea repeatedly has expressed its willingness to return to the talks, and tensions between the Koreas have eased.

Diplomats from the Koreas and the United States have had separate nuclear talks, and cultural and religious visits by South Koreans to the North have resumed.

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