North Korea bars UN inspectors from reprocessing plant: watchdog
Thursday, 25 September 2008

TV footage shows the public demolition of North Korea's cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear complex in June 2008AFP, VIENNA - North Korea is preparing to restart a key nuclear reprocessing plant used for the production of weapons-grade material as its crucial six-party disarmament-for-aid deal stalls, the UN atomic watchdog revealed Wednesday.

Amid growing differences over its denuclearisation pact with South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia, the reclusive Stalinist state informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it would restart the plant at its sprawling nuclear complex in Yongbyon next week, an IAEA spokeswoman said.
 
In a closed session of the IAEA's 35-member board, deputy director general Olli Heinonen said that North Korea had informed inspectors that it planned to "introduce nuclear material to the reprocessing plant in one week's time," according to spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
 
In addition, Pyongyang had barred inspectors from the reprocessing plant and had had IAEA seals and surveillance equipment removed, Fleming said.
 
Yongbyon is 60 miles (96 kilometres) north of Pyongyang. It comprises a Soviet-style five-megawatt reactor which began operating in 1987, a fuel fabrication facility and a plutonium reprocessing plant, where weapons-grade material could be extracted from spent fuel rods.
 
Under the six-country pact announced in February 2007, North Korea agreed to disable and dismantle key nuclear facilities and allow UN atomic inspectors back in in return for one million tonnes of fuel aid and its removal from a US list of terrorist states.
 
But North Korea announced last month it had halted the process in protest at Washington's refusal to drop it from the US blacklist of countries supporting terrorism, as had been promised.
 
Earlier this month, CIA director Michael Hayden estimated that before Yongbyon was shut down North Korea had produced enough plutonium for at least a half-dozen weapons.
 
IAEA spokewoman Fleming said that the process of removing the IAEA seals and cameras had been completed Wednesday.
 
"There are no more IAEA seals and surveillance equipment in place at the reprocessing facility," she said.
 
IAEA inspectors themselves removed around 100 seals and 20-25 cameras, diplomats close to the agency told AFP.
 
Nevertheless, seals and cameras were still in place at other parts of the site, the diplomats stressed.
 
Similarly, IAEA inspectors were only being denied access to the reprocessing plant and three inspectors remained in Yongbyon, the diplomats said.
 
During the closed-door discussion, several countries had expressed "concern" about North Korea's decision to bar inspectors from the reprocessing plant, one diplomat said.
 
"They urged the DPRK to refrain from such actions, to resume its disablement activities and to provide the necessary access to agency inspectors without delay," the diplomat said.
 
South Korea also expressed its deep concern at the latest developments in a statement issued in Seoul.
 
"The government is very concerned about North Korea's continued move to restore nuclear facilities in Yongbyon," the foreign ministry said.
 
"The government urges North Korea to resume work on disablement at an early date and actively cooperate for an agreement on the verification protocol.
 
"The government is paying keen attention to the situation and is in close cooperation with other countries involved in six-party negotiations."
 
The United States was similarly worried.
 
"North Korean moves to halt and reverse disablement and, most recently, remove IAEA seals and cameras from the reprocessing facility, are unsettling," said US envoy Gregory Schulte

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