NK-nuclear reactor

SEOUL, April 2 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Tuesday said it plans to restart its 5 megawatt nuclear reactor that was shut down under an agreement reached at the six-party talks in 2007, a move that will allow the North to extract plutonium from spent fuel rods.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), citing a spokesman for the General Department of Atomic Energy, said measures will be taken to "adjust and alter the use of existing nuclear facilities" so operations of the graphite moderated reactor in Yongbyon can resume.

The spokesman did not say when the reactor will be restarted, but claimed "work will be put into practice without delay." All nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, including the uranium enrichment plant as well as the reactor, will be refurbished as part of resuming operations, he elaborated.

Under the aid-for-denuclearization accord, Pyongyang agreed to mothball the reactor and eventually dismantle it but changed its mind after six-party countries did not provide the kind of energy assistance it wanted. It started reprocessing the 8,000 fuel rods stored at the site in late 2009.

The small reactor can be used to produce spent fuel rods that can be made into weapons-grade plutonium. The North probably used plutonium as fissile material for its first and second nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, while experts are not sure if plutonium or uranium was used in the latest detonation conducted on Feb. 12. The North is known to have the capability to make nuclear weapons using enriched uranium.

The official added that the measures are being taken in accordance with the decision made by the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea last month, which calls for self-sufficiency in the country's nuclear power industry. Such a development can support economic growth and bolster its atomic weapons capability.

The communist country suffers from acute power shortages, while it has insisted that it can give up its nuclear arsenal only if other countries, including the United States, engage in worldwide disarmament talks.

Shortly after the North's announcement, South Korea's foreign ministry condemned the move as "highly regrettable" and called for Pyongyang to comply with its past nuclear disarmament pledges.

"I was aware of the North's report. If it is true, it would be highly regrettable," foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young told reporters.

"North Korea must live up to its promises it made in the past and achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula," Cho said, adding that his government is closely watching developments in North Korea.

Seoul's Ministry of Unification also said that Pyongyang should refrain from taking further actions that can complicate the already serious situation and should comply with the wishes of the international community. The North has said recently that it will nullify the Armistice Agreement that halted the Korean War (1950-653) and discard all non-aggression pacts reached with South Korea in the past. Moreover, the communist country warned it can launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Seoul and Washington.

"It must understand that no country wants to subvert it and that if it takes 'right steps,' other countries will offer the kind of assistance it needs," a senior official said.

Beijing also expressed regret over the North's announcement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said in a regular news briefing that China has constantly advocated denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and maintaining peace and stability in the peninsula and northeast Asia.

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