North Korea vows to beef up nuclear resources

North Korea said Tuesday it would beef up its nuclear facilities to meet energy demands after the U.S. scrapped a project to provide it with power-generating reactors amid the standoff over the North's weapons program. The U.S. decision to halt construction on light-water nuclear reactors "compels (the North) to develop in real earnest its independent nuclear power industry based on 50,000 kilowatt and 200,000 kilowatt GMRs (graphite-moderated reactors) and their related facilities," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.

The facilities, located mostly at the communist country's main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) north of Pyongyang,have been a focus of international suspicions over the North's pursuit of nuclear bombs.

North Korea didn't elaborate on other nuclear "facilities," but it also has a 5-megawatt reactor that has been used in the past to generate plutonium for the country's weapons program.

The 50,000-kilowatt and the 200,000-kilowatt reactors are still under construction, with the 50,000-kilowatt reactor about 75 percent and the 200,000-kilowatt reactor between 10 percent and 15 percent complete, according to experts.

"Graphite-moderated reactors are a type that is more likely to be used for weapons purposes than power generation," said Park Joon-young, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Ewha Womans University. "If the North says it would complete the reactors' construction, people would get more suspicious rather than believing it's for electricity generation."

The North also said it would start developing light-water reactors of its own design "when an appropriate time comes to put further spurs to its peaceful nuclear activities."

The KCNA statement was in line with a separate statement, issued by the North's Foreign Ministry late Monday, where Pyongyang said it would boost its nuclear weapons program to cope with Washington's alleged hostile policy toward North Korea.

The North had mothballed its nuclear facilities under a 1994 deal with Washington to receive the light-water reactors, considered to be more difficult to divert for military purposes. But the North restarted the facilities after the outbreak of the latest nuclear crisis in late 2002, when U.S. officials accused North Korea of violating the agreement by embarking on a secret uranium enrichment program.

Washington decided recently to terminate the light-water reactor project after putting it on hold for two years amid the nuclear standoff. North Korea has protested the decision and demanded compensation.

"The U.S. is now under a legal and moral obligation to compensate for the huge political and economic losses it has caused to (North Korea) by totally stopping the construction of the" light water reactors, KCNA said.

The North said the United States' refusing to implement the 1994 agreement "proves that it was quite right for (the North) to have decided to maintain the nuclear facilities without dismantling them." The North claimed in February that it had nuclear weapons. The claim hasn't been verified independently, but experts believe the country has enough radioactive material for at least a half dozen bombs. Since the outbreak of the latest crisis, Pyongyang has repeatedly claimed that it was bolstering its "nuclear deterrent," a reference to its nuclear weapons capability, reports the AP. I.L.

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