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North Korea Reactor Produces Plutonium Not Electricity For Grid

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will visit the Yongbyon reactor this week.
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) June 26, 2007
Yongbyon reactor -- the focus of North Korea's agreement to shut down its nuclear programmes -- was ostensibly built to generate electricity but is reportedly not connected to any power lines. Instead, experts say, it has produced enough plutonium for possibly up to a dozen nuclear weapons over its 20-year history.

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will visit the reactor this week at Pyongyang's invitation to discuss procedures for verifying and monitoring its shutdown under the first stage of a February disarmament pact.

A North Korean diplomat was quoted as saying the plant could be shut and sealed in the second half of July.

The reactor, 96 kilometres (60 miles) north of Pyongyang, has a capacity of five megawatts and began operating in 1987.

It is too small to make much difference to the nation's acute power shortage and a US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report in January said the facility reportedly had no power lines attached to it.

Nevertheless, the North demanded steep compensation for lost energy when it shut down Yongbyon under an October 1994 deal with the United States.

An international consortium started work on two proliferation-resistant light water reactors and the US provided an interim 500,000 tonnes a year of heavy fuel oil.

The "Agreed Framework" deal collapsed in 2002 when Washington accused the North of running a covert highly enriched uranium programme. But the agreement's supporters say it halted plutonium production for eight years.

When the reactor is operational, the CRS report said, it can produce about six kilograms (13 pounds) of plutonium annually, enough for one small bomb.

US intelligence officials believe that the North removed fuel rods for reprocessing into plutonium during a 70-day shutdown in 1989.

During a shutdown in May 1994, about 8,000 fuel rods were removed, enough for four to six nuclear weapons. The North said it removed a further 8,000 rods during another closure that began in April 2005.

Robert Mogavero, of France's Atomic Energy Commission, told AFP in April the first step to deactivating a reactor was to shut down the nuclear chain reaction, by switching the control panels to a "safety" position. One must then wait "a few days, up to a week or two" for residual power in the reactor core to diminish on its own, Mogavero said.

Step two is the removal of the nuclear fuel in the reactor's core, which could take anything from several weeks to a couple of months. The spent fuel must be prepared for safe storage.

The final step, dismantling the reactor itself, "requires a certain number of phases and can last many years," Mogavero said.

earlier related report
Diplomacy In Full Swing Over North Korea
by Lee Jong-Heon
Seoul (UPI) June 26 - A diplomatic flurry is in full swing to end the years-long standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons programs following the resolution of a long-running banking dispute over Pyongyang's overseas funds.

A group of U.N. nuclear inspectors arrived in North Korea Tuesday to arrange the shutdown of the country's nuclear facilities as called for in an accord reached at six-nation talks in February.

The four-member team from the International Atomic Energy Agency, headed by Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen, will use its five-day trip to fulfill the North's long-delayed pledge to shut down its 5-megawatt graphite-moderated reactor at the Yongbyon complex. The inspectors would also discuss disabling other facilities, such as a partially constructed 50-megawatt reactor, radiochemical laboratory and a storage facility for fuel rods, South Korean officials said.

This is the U.N. inspectors' first visit since being kicked out in December 2002 after the United States accused North Korea of running a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of a 1994 disarmament accord.

Another group of senior IAEA officials is likely to visit the communist North early next month to verify the shutdown, according to Seoul officials.

In a bid to back IAEA efforts toward denuclearization, South Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Chun Yung-woo, plans to leave for Washington on Wednesday to meet his U.S. counterpart. Meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Chun would discuss ways to speed up the long-delayed process to disarm North Korea on the back of the American envoy's landmark trip to Pyongyang last week, according to diplomatic sources in Seoul.

Hill made a surprise visit to the North June 21-22, during which he got a North Korean pledge to carry through with its nuclear obligations. During the visit, the U.S. nuclear envoy met his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Gwan, and Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun. Hill was the highest U.S. official to visit North Korea since a trip by James Kelly, the chief negotiator in October 2002.

Hill's trip would pave the way for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to travel to the North to reach a greater deal to end the nuclear crisis, officials here said. South Korea's presidential adviser for international affairs said Rice's North Korean trip is likely to take place in October or November, which is expected to produce crucial momentum to end the nuclear standoff and set up a peace regime on the Korean peninsula. In October 2000 U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made a high-profile visit to North Korea and met its leader, Kim Jong Il, to discuss ending their decades-long Cold War hostilities.

Rice's possible North Korea trip will be followed by a four-way summit between two Koreas, the United States and China to discuss a peace settlement on the peninsula, Lee Su-hoon, chairman of the Presidential Committee on Northeast Asian Cooperation Initiative, told a local radio program.

Rice is due to meet South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon in Washington on Thursday to discuss the North's disarmament process.

South Korea's presidential security secretary, Baek Jong-chun, has already embarked on a five-day visit to China and Russia for discussions on accelerating the settlement of the North Korean nuclear weapons problem.

The visits will be followed by a high-profile visit to North Korea by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on July 2-4. China is considered one of a few nations that have leverage over defiant North Korea.

Last week Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo traveled to Pyongyang as he sought to play a mediating role in the nuclear standoff.

The intense diplomatic campaigns come in the wake of the termination of a financial dispute surrounding the North's $25 million previously held in a Macao bank. On Monday, North Korea announced its banking dispute had been resolved and it would use the returned money for humanitarian purposes as called for by the United States, vowing to begin to carry out its promise to shut down its main nuclear plant.

Buoyed by the progress in the disarmament process, South Korea said would resume rice aid to the North this week to back up hard-won momentum for denuclearizing the communist neighbor. It plans to begin shipment of 400,000 tons of rice, worth $152 million, this weekend, which will be made over the next six months.

But analysts in Seoul expect a rough road ahead on North Korea's disarmament, saying this week's IAEA visit will serve as the first test of Pyongyang's commitment to disable its nuclear weapons programs.

"The path to disarming North Korea of its nuclear weapons will be hard if the North refuses a full declaration of its nuclear programs," said Kim Sung-han, an analyst at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, a Seoul-based government think tank.

Source: Agence France-Presse

Source: United Press International

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UN Inspectors In North Korea On Crunch Mission But Many Doubt Outcome
Seoul (AFP) June 26, 2007
UN inspectors arrived in North Korea on Tuesday for the first time in nearly five years, signalling a dramatic upturn in the pace of international efforts to halt the communist state's nuclear programmes. Before leaving Beijing for Pyongyang, the head of the four-person team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Olli Heinonen, expressed optimism that the North would finally begin to disarm.

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