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North Korea Begins Reprocessing Spent Fuel Rods

  • Kurt Achin

North Korea says it is restarting its nuclear facilities, in order to reprocess weapons-grade material. The move deals another serious blow to diplomacy aimed at ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons, and aggravates high tensions in the region.

North Korea alarmed the world Saturday with an announcement it was beginning to reprocess spent fuel rods from its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

A North Korean news presenter reads a Foreign Ministry statement that says reprocessing the fuel rods will improve North Korea's nuclear deterrent, even as hostile nations ratchet up their military threat.

North Korea ejected international nuclear inspectors last week, after announcing its withdrawal from "useless" multinational talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs. That move was a response to a United Nations statement condemning the North's long range rocket launch two weeks ago.

South Korean officials say they are not surprised by North Korea's decision. However, Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan announced this week that a decision to reprocess nuclear materials would lead to more sanctions by the United Nations.

The United Nations imposed sanctions Friday on three North Korean companies for aiding Pyongyang's missile and nuclear programs.

Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, Korea Ryonbong General Corporation and Tanchon Commercial Bank were blacklisted by the U.N. sanctions committee under a 2006 resolution passed after North Korea conducted its first nuclear weapons test.

North Korea is believed to have between five and ten nuclear weapons. Nuclear experts say their stockpile of unprocessed fuel rods is likely to yield enough weapons-grade material for at least one more explosive device.

North Korea marked the 77th anniversary of its military Saturday. The country's main official newspaper announced it would deal a "merciless strike" against the United States and its allies if they touch "even an inch" of North Korean territory.

The current tensions are complicated by North Korea's detention of two American journalists and a South Korean executive on political charges.

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