June 30, 2005

N. Korea resumes building nuclear reactors -report

TOKYO (Reuters) - North Korea has restarted work on twonuclear reactors that was suspended under a 1994 landmark dealwith the United States, a Japanese newspaper reported onThursday.

Quoting unidentified U.S. government and other sources inWashington, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun said North Korea hadresumed building a 50-megawatt reactor in Yongbyon and a200-megawatt reactor in Thaechon, north of Pyongyang.

But an official in Seoul familiar with intelligence onNorth Korea's nuclear activities said there was no specificproof to conclude work had restarted.

North Korea recently told the United States "indirectly" itwas resuming the building work, the newspaper quoted sources inWashington as saying.

Under the 1994 deal, North Korea suspended work on theplutonium-producing, graphite-based reactors in exchange for amulti-billion dollar deal involving energy aid and theconstruction of two light-water reactors, which are moredifficult to use in nuclear arms development.

The light-water reactors have never been completed.

It also sealed the operation of a five-megawatt reactor inYongbyon, considered to be the major source of the North'sweapons-grade plutonium, under the agreement, known as theAgreed Framework.

But that deal unraveled after Washington said in October2002 the North had said it had a secret uranium enrichmentprogram. Pyongyang subsequently denied saying this.

The latest work had been confirmed through spy satellitephotographs and other data, the sources were quoted as saying.

North Korea's move could be designed to demonstrate to theUnited States the reclusive communist state could easilyaccelerate its nuclear weapons program, the newspaper quotedthe sources as saying.


The paper said building was expected to take several years.

"At this stage, there is no additional information tosubstantiate this report, which has been talked about beforebased on assumptions," the South Korean official said,referring to the reported resumption of work on the incompletereactors.

The report came as South Korean Unification Minister ChungDong-young visited Washington for talks with U.S. leaders onhis meeting earlier in June with North Korean leader KimJong-il.

Japan's top government spokesman Hiroyuki Hosoda told anews conference Tokyo had not confirmed the move, adding he wasaware North Korea had in the past said it intended to restartthe work.

North Korea said in February it had nuclear weapons and wasboycotting six-party talks on ending its nuclear ambitions.

It said in May 8,000 spent fuel rods from the five-megawattreactor had been removed as part of measures to boost itsnuclear arsenal.

The North recently has shown signs it may return to thetalks, which involve the two Koreas, the United States, China,Russia and Japan.

North Korean's Kim told Chung his country was prepared toreturn to negotiations if certain conditions were met, such asWashington treating Pyongyang as a genuine partner.

The Bush administration last week urged North Korea to seta date quickly for resuming six-party nuclear talks amid anintensifying diplomatic push that is expected to includeanother trip to Asia by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

On Tuesday, Russia's Interfax news agency quoted a NorthKorean diplomatic source as saying Pyongyang was preparing toreturn to the table in the second half of July.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul)