N Korea's second path to N-bomb

Uranium enrichment programme at completion stage, says Pyongyang


North Korea also said it was building additional nuclear bombs with plutonium it had recently gleaned from its reactor in Yongbyon. It said it had completed reprocessing the latest batch of spent fuel unloaded from the reactor, repeating the procedure believed to have given the North enough plutonium for six to eight bombs.
For years, officials in Washington and elsewhere have debated whether North Korea was pursuing a clandestine uranium-enrichment programme. After years of denial, North Korea announced in April that it intended to enrich uranium.

In June, it said its enrichment programme was in an “experimental stage.” On Friday, it provided an update on its progress, highlighting its nuclear card at a time when Washington’s special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, is on a high-profile trip to Northeast Asia to consult with its allies on how to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programmes.
“Experimental uranium enrichment has successfully been conducted to enter into completion phase,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, quoting what it said was a letter the North Korean government had sent to the UN Security Council in response to a request for information.

The letter, whose full text was carried on KCNA, gave no details. But the use of the word “experimental” suggested the country was still short of running a full-scale enrichment programme.

 South Korean officials have said they believe North Korea first acquired uranium-enrichment technology from Pakistan.
A facility that produces highly enriched uranium for weapons requires the costly installation of thousands of centrifuges. But unlike plutonium, uranium can be enriched in relatively small and inconspicuous facilities, such as an underground factory, experts said.
“Our intelligence authorities will try to verify the North Korean claim, but it won’t be easy,” said Won Tae-je, a spokesman for the Defence Ministry in Seoul. He said the North’s claim could also be “just rhetoric for negotiations.”

The existence of a second programme to make bomb fuel would give North Korea something else to negotiate with the West. More difficult to detect or monitor than its plutonium counterpart, a uranium programme poses a bigger challenge to Western officials who fear North Korea could sell such technology abroad, as it has sold some of its reactor technology to Syria.
In its letter to the Security Council, North Korea also said: “We are prepared for both dialogue and sanctions.”

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