UN Inspectors Head to DPRK's Reactor

A view of Pyongyang, including the Arc of Triumph (L) and the Pyramid (R), an uncompleted hotel, April 2007.

UN inspectors on Thursday headed to a nuclear reactor at the centre of Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s weapons programme for the first time in nearly five years, a day after the state conducted new missile tests.

Olli Heinonen, head of the four-strong UN team visiting DPRK since Tuesday, told China's Xinhua news agency in Pyongyang that "we are going to see the facilities and continue our discussion in more detail."

The delegation is expected to return to Pyongyang Friday afternoon, Xinhua quoted Heinonen as saying.

"A working-level delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) left for Yongbyon ... to visit the nuclear facilities," Xinhua said.

The access conforms to a landmark February deal, under which the North pledged to shut down the five-megawatt reactor under UN supervision in return for badly-needed energy aid and diplomatic concessions.

The reactor, located 95 kilometres (60 miles) north of Pyongyang, was ostensibly built to generate electricity but is reportedly not connected to any power lines.

Instead, experts say, it has produced enough plutonium over 20 years for possibly up to a dozen nuclear weapons.

UN inspectors were kicked out in December, 2002, at the start of a crisis that led to the regime's nuclear weapons test last year.

The new IAEA team has been tasked with arranging the shutdown of DPRK's nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.

Under the February deal, the North must eventually abandon the Yongbyon reactor. It also agreed to declare all of its nuclear programmes, including an enriched uranium-based scheme which it has denied operating.

As rewards, the Pyongyang regime would receive emergency energy aid equivalent to one million tons of heavy fuel oil and diplomatic benefits, such as talks on restoring diplomatic ties with Washington.

US chief nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill, who last week became the highest-ranking US official to visit DPRK since 2002, has predicted it will shut down Yongbyon within three weeks.

He also hoped the facility could be "disabled" by the end of the year.

Officials in Seoul and Washington expect the six-party talks aimed at terminating Pyongyang's nuclear programme to resume in July. The talks involve host China, the US, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia.

Source: AFP

Other news