North Korea Raises Stakes by Vowing to Start Reactor ; Pyongyang to Expand Nuclear Arsenal in Bid to Fight Economic Sanctions
Choe Sang-Hun; Mark Landler, International Herald Tribune
Pyongyang's warning that it would step up its uranium enrichment to make nuclear bomb fuel came two days after Kim Jong-un had called for expanding his country's arsenal both in quality and quantity.
North Korea said Tuesday that it would put all its nuclear facilities -- including its operational uranium-enrichment program and reactors that were mothballed or under construction -- to use in expanding its arsenal of nuclear weapons, sharply raising the stakes in the escalating standoff with the United States and its allies.
The announcement by the North Korean General Department of Atomic Energy came two days after the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, had said his nuclear weapons were not a bargaining chip and called for expanding his country's nuclear arsenal both in "quality and quantity" during a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.
The decision will affect the role of the North's uranium enrichment plant in its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, a spokesman for the nuclear department told the Korean Central News Agency. This marked the first time North Korea had said that it would use the facility to make nuclear weapons. Since first unveiling it to a visiting U.S. scholar in 2010, North Korea had insisted that it was running the plant to make reactor fuel to generate electricity, though Washington had suggested its purpose was to make bombs.
Saying "we will act on this without delay," the spokesman also said that North Korea would restart its mothballed nuclear reactor in Yongbyon. The five-megawatt graphite-moderated reactor had been the main source of plutonium bomb fuel for North Korea until it was shut down under a short-lived nuclear disarmament deal with Washington in 2007. North Korean engineers were believed to have extracted enough plutonium for six to eight bombs -- including the devices detonated in 2006 and 2009 in underground nuclear tests -- from the spent fuel unloaded from the reactor.
It is not known whether North Korea's third nuclear test in February used some of its limited stockpile of plutonium or fuel from its uranium enrichment program, whose scale and history remain a mystery.
A restarting of the reactor and a role in producing weapons for its uranium enrichment plant would add to growing U.S. concern over the North's nuclear weapon program. The developments would mean that the North had two sources of fuel for atomic bombs -- plutonium and highly enriched uranium -- and could become more strident in its demands.
In Beijing, the spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Hong Lei, said that China, Pyongyang's main ally, had "noticed the statement made by the D.P.R.K. and feel regretful about it." Mr. Hong, speaking Tuesday at the daily news briefing, used an abbreviation of North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. China urged "all parties to remain calm and restrained," he said.
Mr. Kim, in his speech before the party meeting, which was published in the North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Tuesday, said that making the country's possession of self-defense nuclear weapons "permanent" was essential to ensuring that the country could focus on rebuilding its economy.
"Now that we have become a proud nuclear state, we have gained a favorable ground from which we can concentrate all our finance and efforts in building the economy and improving the people's lives based on the strong deterrent against war," Mr. Kim said. "We must now focus all our resources on building an economically strong nation."
Moving swiftly on the party's "new strategic line," North Korea's atomic energy department said that measures were being taken to expand the country's nuclear deterrent, as well as to build an indigenous nuclear power industry to resolve its acute electricity shortage. The North's rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly, enacted a law Monday on "consolidating the position of nuclear weapons state," the state news media reported Tuesday. …