Wednesday, September 24, 2008

N.Korea expels IAEA monitors from atom bomb plant

Wednesday, September 24, 2008; 6:23 AM

VIENNA (Reuters) - North Korea has expelled U.N. monitors from its plutonium-making nuclear plant, officials said on Wednesday, accelerating moves to restart the basis of an atom bomb project it had renounced under a disarmament-for-aid deal.

The Stalinist state had said on Friday it was working to reactivate the sprawling Yongbyon reactor complex, which it had been dismantling since last November under a disarmament-for-aid deal with five powers that has gone awry.

Olli Heinonen, the International Atomic Energy Agency's head of non-proliferation safeguards, revealed the major setback in a special briefing to a closed meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors in Vienna.

"There are no more seals and surveillance equipment in place at the (plutonium) reprocessing facility," IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said, referring to the most proliferation-sensitive installation at Yongbyon.

(North Korea) further stated that from here on, IAEA inspectors will have no further access to the reprocessing plant," she said, summarizing Heinonen's remarks.

"(North Korea) also informed IAEA inspectors that they plan to introduce nuclear material to the reprocessing plant in one week's time," Fleming told reporters outside the meeting.

Western diplomats and nuclear analysts have said North Korea would need at least several months and probably more time to restart the largely dismantled complex.

Diplomats close to the IAEA said three monitors had been ousted from positions at the plutonium facility but were still observing other parts of the Soviet-designed complex.

They said the monitors were forced to remove around 100 seals and 20-25 cameras from the plutonium facility.

North Korea's foreign ministry has said steps are under way to restore Yongbyon to its "original state" -- reneging from a 2007 accord with five powers to scrap its nuclear arms program in exchange for significant trade and diplomatic benefits.


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