Page last updated at 11:13 GMT, Tuesday, 30 June 2009 12:13 UK

North Korea 'enriching uranium'

An international researcher examines machinery in North Korea used to process uranium - 14/2/2008
The US has already accused North Korea of trying to enrich uranium

North Korea is going ahead with plans to enrich uranium, a possible step to making a nuclear weapon, South Korean Defence Minister Lee Sang-hee has said.

North Korea said earlier in June it would "weaponise" its plutonium stocks and start enriching uranium for a light-water nuclear reactor.

"It is clear that they are moving forward," Mr Lee said on Tuesday.

The North's threat came after the UN passed tougher sanctions in response to Pyongyang's nuclear test in May.

Easier to hide

North Korea has ample supplies of natural uranium, and the US has previously accused Pyongyang of running a clandestine uranium enrichment plan.

A uranium enrichment programme would be far easier to hide than reprocessing plutonium from spent fuel rods, Mr Lee said, adding that it can be conducted in a space as small as 600 sq metres (6,500 sq feet).

North Korea's plutonium programme is based on the Yongbyon reactor, which is under US satellite observation.

The North is already thought to possess enough reprocessed plutonium for between six and eight nuclear weapons, but analysts say Pyongyang has not yet mastered the technology to make a nuclear warhead small enough to place on a missile.

Also on Tuesday, North Korea said it would "strengthen its self-defensive nuclear deterrent to safeguard its sovereignty and safety".

A commentary in an official newspaper said North Korea was prepared for "open nuclear confrontation" with the US.

Washington has said it does not intend to attack North Korea.

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