Nuclear-armed North Korea boasted today it has “many thousands of centrifuges” running at a new uranium enrichment plant, which has raised fears the regime wants to make more fuel for atom bombs.
Pyongyang issued its first report on the facility, which it says is for peaceful purposes, a week after launching a deadly artillery attack against the South and while a massive US-South Korean naval exercise was in full swing.
World powers fear that the volatile regime of Kim Jong-il, which has twice tested atom bombs, is seeking to produce weapons-grade uranium on top of the plutonium it already possesses to use in a game of nuclear brinkmanship.
In a newspaper editorial carried by the official news agency, Pyongyang highlighted its nuclear accomplishments but insisted that a light-water reactor it is building, and the fuel for it, are for peaceful purposes.
Earlier this month the regime showed off its new uranium enrichment facilities to a visiting US nuclear scientist, who called the plant with 2,000 centrifuges “ultra-modern” and “stunning”.
“These facilities appear to be designed primarily for civilian nuclear power, not to boost North Korea’s military capability,” wrote the scientist, Siegfried Hecker, but he also warned the facilities “could be readily converted to produce highly-enriched uranium bomb fuel.”
North Korea today insisted that its light water reactor – which Hecker described as being in the early stages of construction – and the enrichment facility to provide fuel is intended only to meet power demand.
Impoverished North Korea, aside from lacking enough food for its people, also suffers from chronic power shortages. Satellite photos at night show the country as a dark patch next to the well-lit South.
“We are actively building a light water reactor and, in order to meet the demand, we are operating a modern uranium enrichment system with many thousands of centrifuges,” the KCNA report said.
“Our nuclear energy development, which is for peaceful purposes and to solve the electricity demand, will be more active,” it added, citing an editorial from the ruling communist party’s newspaper the Rodong Sinmun.
”Using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is a right that cannot be denied developing countries. Every countries in the world should practise that right because it cannot be oligopolised by a few countries,” it said.
“The problem is that some Western powers are, while turning blind on their own nuclear activities, criticising other countries’ activities.”
North Korea, under a pact reached in six-nation disarmament talks with South Korea China, Japan, Russia, and the United States, in 2008 shut down an ageing reactor that had produced plutonium for its weapons drive.