For the first time, South Korea's intelligence agency has said North Korea has recently reprocessed a small number of spent nuclear fuel rods. It also says the North has carried out high-explosive tests related to the development of nuclear arms.
South Korea's National Intelligence Director Ko Young-koo told Parliament Wednesday that North Korea has recently reprocessed a small number of spent nuclear fuel rods it was keeping at its Yongbyon nuclear complex.
The reprocessed material can be used to build nuclear weapons. North Korea has 8,000 spent fuel rods.
Since April, North Korea has said it is close to finishing reprocessing all of the rods.
The fuel rods were part of a plutonium nuclear weapons program the North agreed to halt under a 1994 pact with the United States. But the deal was essentially nullified after Washington said North Korea admitted last October to having a secret program to enrich uranium for weapons, in violation of several international accords.
The intelligence chief also said his agency has confirmed that North Korea had conducted at least 70 tests of devices that can be used to trigger nuclear explosions.
They identified the testing facility as Yongduk-dong, some 40 kilometers northwest of Yongbyon.
The reports are in line with a July 1 article in The New York Times saying Pyongyang was testing explosives and wanted to make sophisticated weapons that would be small enough to attach to its growing arsenal of medium and long-range missiles.
The statement from the South Korean intelligence agency comes amid a flurry of high-level diplomatic activity to resolve the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is now in China to discuss peaceful solutions leaders in Beijing. South Korean cabinet officials meeting in Seoul with a North Korean delegation this week say they will urge the North to hold joint talks with South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and possibly Russia. So far North Korea has rejected that idea, saying it wants to hold direct talks with the United States.
As the North Korean delegates arrived in Seoul Wednesday, they said the Korean Peninsula was under the "black clouds" of a possible nuclear war.