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South Korea: North Shuts Down Nuke Reactor

Associated Press | April 18, 2005

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - South Korea said Monday it believes a reactor at North Korea's main nuclear complex has been shut down, a possible sign the communist state could be moving to harvest more weapons-grade plutonium.

Kim Sook, director-general of North American affairs at South Korea's Foreign Ministry, told KBS Radio that a shutdown of a nuclear reactor at the North's main Yongbyon nuclear complex had been confirmed.

Yongbyon houses a 5-megawatt reactor that generates spent fuel rods laced with plutonium, but they must be removed and reprocessed to extract the plutonium for use in an atomic weapon. They can be removed only if the reactor has been shut down.

North Korea restarted the reactor after expelling U.N. monitors at the end of 2002.

``We have to wait and see the intentions and the measures North Korea takes in the future,'' Kim said.

The New York Times reported Monday that the apparent shutdown of the reactor has raised concern at the White House that North Korea could be preparing to make good on a recent threat to harvest a new load of nuclear fuel, potentially increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal. However, the newspaper said there wasn't any confirmation why the reactor was shut down, and it could have been simply for maintenance or a diplomatic bluff.

A U.S. scholar who recently visited North Korea said earlier this month that officials there told him they were preparing to unload fuel rods from the Yongbyon reactor during the next two months, adding to the urgency of resuming nuclear talks.

``They will have more plutonium unless there is a freeze,'' Selig Harrison, a Washington-based researcher, told reporters in Beijing after his trip.

North Korean officials also said they wouldn't even discuss dismantling their atomic weapons until Washington has normalized relations, Harrison said.

Three rounds of talks on the North's nuclear ambitions have produced no breakthroughs, and Pyongyang claimed in a February announcement that it had developed atomic weapons and would indefinitely boycott the negotiations.

The North's official Rodong Sinmun daily said in a commentary Monday that the country's ``nuclear weapons serve as main deterrent to avert a war and ensure peace and security in the Korean Peninsula and the rest of Northeast Asia,'' according to the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency.

International experts believe the North has reprocessed enough plutonium to build about a half-dozen nuclear bombs, but it hasn't performed any known atomic tests that would confirm its arsenal.

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