Bloomberg News

North Korea Nuclear Reactor Construction ‘Progressing Apace’

December 01, 2011

(Adds analyst comment in 10th paragraph.)

Nov. 30 (Bloomberg) -- North Korea said it is making progress in building a light-water atomic reactor and producing low-enriched uranium as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the regime to dismantle its nuclear program.

Construction is “progressing apace,” the official Korean Central News Agency said, quoting an unidentified foreign ministry official. “The right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy is an issue vital for the sovereignty and development of the DPRK and, therefore, neither concession nor compromise should be allowed.” The country’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Clinton, in South Korea to attend an aid conference, urged North Korea today to take “concrete steps” toward denuclearization, the South’s Yonhap News said. The Obama administration resumed direct talks last month with Kim Jong Il’s regime after increased international sanctions had no effect in persuading it to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

Officials at the Unification Ministry, which oversees South Korea’s relations with North Korea, were not immediately available for comment. Officials at President Lee Myung Bak’s office were also unavailable.

Reactor Report

North Korea’s announcement confirms a report from former U.S. nuclear negotiator Joel Wit as saying North Korea was making rapid progress on building the new reactor. While work is nearly completed on the outside walls of the building, the plant may not be operational for two or three years, according to an analysis of satellite photos on his Web site, 38North.org.

The U.S., Japan and South Korea have all urged China, North Korea’s biggest ally, to persuade it to return to six-nation nuclear disarmament talks that were abandoned in April 2009. Today’s statement said North Korea “is ready to resume the six- party talks without preconditions,” echoing previous pledges that have yet to result in a return to the bargaining table.

Tensions on the peninsula have risen since attacks last year that killed 50 South Koreans. North Korea shelled a South Korean island last November, killing four people. It has denied an international report blaming Kim’s regime for the torpedoing of a South Korean warship in March 2010 that killed 46 sailors.

South Korea and the U.S. have said the North must fulfill previous commitments before the six-nation talks resume, including suspending the enrichment of uranium and plutonium used in atomic weapons, freezing missile and nuclear tests and allowing in international inspectors to verify the steps taken.

‘Indirect Signal’

Today’s announcement may be an “indirect signal” that North Korea is seeking the resumption of U.S. food aid ahead of the next round of bilateral talks, said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. In any event, “it will not be easy for the North to complete construction of the reactor by its target timeline of next year,” Yang said.

North Korea’s economy in 2010 shrank for the second year in a row, South Korea’s central bank said this month. Gross domestic product in the impoverished country totaled 30 trillion won ($26.2 billion), compared with South Korea’s 1,173 trillion won economy. The North doesn’t release its own economic data.

--With assistance from John Brinsley in Tokyo and Taejin Park in Seoul. Editors: John Brinsley, Patrick Harrington

To contact the reporter on this story: Shinhye Kang in Seoul at skang24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brett Miller at bmiller30@bloomberg.net


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