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 Thursday, 26 December, 2002, 23:40 GMT
N Korea nuclear moves alarm UN
North Korean border guard
Tensions between the two Koreas are rising
The UN nuclear watchdog says North Korea has moved 1,000 nuclear fuel rods to a reactor that could produce weapons-grade plutonium - a situation it describes as "very worrying".

I don't think it would be the right thing for us to continue to build up our diplomatic relations with North Korea

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, said the Yongbyon plant could "be directly used to manufacture nuclear weapons - and there again we have no way to verify the nature of the activity".

There is mounting international concern that the Yongbyon reactor, sealed up for eight years under a deal with the US, could be restarted - the IAEA says it could be working within two months.

In protest at Pyongyang's nuclear moves, Australia has halted plans to open an embassy in North Korea, saying it would not be appropriate to build up diplomatic relations now.

Washington said that moves to restart the facilities "would compound North Korea's violations of its international commitments".

"We call on North Korea to immediately allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to replace or restore the seals and cameras that the North has damaged" at the Yongbyon reactor, US State Department spokeswoman Barbara Greenberg said on Thursday.

Satellite photo of Yongbyon plant in 2000 by Space Imaging
16 Oct: N Korea acknowledges secret nuclear programme, US announces
14 Nov: Fuel shipments to N Korea halted
27 November: N Korea accuses US of fabricating claim about nuclear programme
12 Dec: N Korea threatens to reactivate Yongbyon N-plant
22 Dec: N Korea removes monitoring devices at Yongbyon reactor
26 Dec: UN says 1,000 fuel rods had been moved to the plant

Earlier, South Korea said more diplomatic efforts were needed to avert a crisis over North Korea's nuclear programme.

President Kim Dae-jung told his National Security Council that Seoul must work with the US and Japan to stop the situation deteriorating.

Russia has also renewed its calls on North Korea to co-operate with IAEA inspectors who were brought in to ensure it did not conceal weapons-grade plutonium when the reactors were mothballed.

Earlier this month Pyongyang said it was re-activating its nuclear programme and dismantled the IAEA's monitoring equipment at Yongbyon.

North Korea says the Yongbyon reactor will help meet its electricity needs.

The reactor was closed down as part of an American-led fuel aid deal which broke down this year when the US suspended shipments in protest at moves by the North to revive its nuclear programme.

An official of the International Atomic Energy Agency holds a surveillance camera
The IAEA's cameras had been in place since 1994
The IAEA spokesman, Mark Gwozdecky, said the agency was particularly concerned about the reprocessing plant at the site, which North Korea could use to obtain weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel.

"We're concerned about the reactor but ultimately it is the reprocessing facility that is of the highest concern to us," he said.

He added that there was no sign of the North Koreans trying to re-start the reprocessing plant.

Mr Gwozdecky said that although the North Koreans had disabled surveillance equipment there, two IAEA inspectors on the ground were still monitoring the situation.

Map showing North Korea's nuclear sites
Yongbyon: Five-megawatt experimental nuclear power reactor and a partially completed plutonium extraction facility. Activities at site frozen under 1994 Agreed Framework
Taechon: 200-MWt nuclear power reactor - construction halted under Agreed Framework
Pyongyang: Laboratory-scale "hot cells" that may have been used to extract small quantities of plutonium
Kumho: Two 1,000-MWt light water reactors being built under Agreed Framework

  The BBC's Alan Little
"The UN's nuclear watchdog says the material has no civilian use"
  The BBC's Matt Frei
"The North Koreans are quite serious about developing some nuclear capability"
  Mark Gwozdecky, IAEA spokesman
"We are concerned about the reprocessing facility"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

See also:

26 Dec 02 | Media reports
24 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
15 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
12 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
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