North Korea Restarts Reactor; IAEA Sends Resolution to UN

By Kerr, Paul | Arms Control Today, March 2003 | Go to article overview

North Korea Restarts Reactor; IAEA Sends Resolution to UN


Kerr, Paul, Arms Control Today


FURTHER ESCALATING THE crisis over its suspected nuclear weapons activities, North Korea has restarted a small nuclear reactor that had been frozen by the 1994 Agreed Framework, U.S. officials confirmed February 27. The move came two weeks after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found North Korea in "further non-compliance" with its obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and referred the matter to the UN Security Council.

The five-megawatt reactor can produce approximately one bomb's worth of plutonium each year, according to a November 27 report by the Congressional Research Service. Although the reactor poses no immediate threat, restarting it is the most aggressive step that Pyongyang has taken since the crisis began in October, when it allegedly admitted to a U.S. delegation that it was pursuing an illicit uranium-enrichment program.

North Korea's nuclear weapons activities were supposed to have been halted by the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities, including the reactor, a fuel-rod fabrication plant, a reprocessing plant, and two partially completed larger reactors. In return the United States agreed to provide two proliferation-resistant reactors and supply North Korea with 500,000 metric tons of heating oil each year while the reactors were under construction.

But in response to North Korea's alleged admission of a program to enrich uranium, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, the U.S.-led international consortium responsible for implementing the Agreed Framework, announced in November that it would suspend fuel oil deliveries to North Korea.

North Korea then announced in December it was restarting the reactor to produce electricity. During the next few weeks, North Korea removed seals and monitoring equipment from its nuclear facilities and ordered IAEA inspectors, who had been charged with monitoring the freeze, out of the country. On January 10, Pyongyang further inflamed the increasingly tense situation by announcing that it was withdrawing from the NPT.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said February 27 that North Korea's decision to restart the reactor was "another one of these provocative steps in the wrong direction that I think demonstrates that North Korea's commitments and promises are consistently violated."

Returning February 25 from a trip to Asia, Secretary of State Colin Powell had told reporters that North Korea had not yet begun to move spent fuel rods stored at the reactor site to the reprocessing facility, and Boucher indicated that that remained the case. Powell's deputy Richard Armitage told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 4 that reprocessing the rods could yield enough plutonium for four to six weapons. Powell said during a February 24 press conference in Beijing that the United States would "view any move by North Korea" to reprocess spent fuel or produce nuclear weapons "seriously."

North Korea said in a February 14 program on the state-owned Pyongyang Korean Central Broadcasting Station that it withdrew from the treaty and decided to reactivate its nuclear facilities in response to U.S. actions, repeating charges that Washington violated the Agreed Framework and threatened North Korea with nuclear weapons. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

Pyongyang also alleges that the United States is threatening to invade North Korea and impose a blockade. A North Korean army spokesman said February 18 that North Korea would "abandon its commitment" to the 1953 Armistice Agreement signed at the end of the Korean War if the United States imposes a blockade, according to a report from the state-owned Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). A State Department official would not say in a February 25 interview if the Bush administration is considering such a measure.

North Korea also signaled that it might not adhere to its moratorium on testing long-range missiles, which it extended indefinitely during a September 17 summit between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. …

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