North Korea says it has restarted its main nuclear complex used to produce plutonium for its atomic weapons program. The confirmation has added to fears the pariah state plans to launch a long-range rocket next month.
Pyongyang declared Tuesday that its Nyongbyon nuclear reactor was in full operation, and that efforts were underway to improve its atomic weapons arsenal "in quality and quantity."
In comments carried by state media, the director of the North's Atomic Energy Institute said its plutonium and highly enriched uranium facilities had been "rearranged, changed or readjusted," and that the country was ready to cope with US hostility with "nuclear weapons any time."
The Nyongbyon complex, seen as the country's main source of weapons-grade plutonium, was mothballed in 2007 under an aid-for-disarmament accord. Following the North's last nuclear test in 2007, however, there had been signs it was being renovated. Since then, satellite imagery analysis has suggested the partial reboot of the reactor, which experts say is capable of producing enough plutonium for one nuclear bomb - or around six kilograms (13 pounds) of plutonium per year.
Tuesday's announcement comes on the back of strong hints from Pyongyang on Monday that it is preparing to launch satellites mounted on long-range rockets to mark the ruling community party's 70th anniversary on October 10.
Missiles disguised as satellites
The launches are widely viewed as disguised tests of North Korea's long-range missile technology, although Pyongyang vehemently denies this. South Korea warned on Tuesday that the use of ballistic missile technology would contravene UN Security Council resolutions and amount to a provocation.
"Any launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea is a serious act of provocation," South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok told a regular press briefing.
"It is a military threat and a clear violation of the UN resolutions banning (North Korea) from any activities using ballistic missile technology."
North Korea's National Aerospace Development Administration director said the country had enjoyed "shining achievements" in the field of space technology. He said scientists and technicians were pushing ahead in a final phase of development for a new Earth observation satellite.
"Space development for peaceful purposes is a sovereign state's legitimate right... and the people… are fully determined to exercise this right no matter what others may say about it," the director told Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency.
Threat to peace
North Korea spent decades trying to successfully reach space with a multistage rocket, finally putting its first satellite into space in late 2012. Repeated testing of small-range missiles into the sea have so far gone unpunished.
In tandem with the pursuit of nuclear weapons leading to a series of nuclear tests, North Korea's testing of ballistic missile technology has been described by the US and its allies as a threat to world peace.
The Koreas threatened each other with a war in August after mine explosions that maimed two South Korean soldiers earlier in that month were blamed on Pyongyang.
nm/jil (Reuters, AFP, AP)