North Korean uranium enrichment spurs international outcry
North Korea's claims that it has a fully functioning uranium enrichment plant has caused outcry Monday from Washington, Seoul and Tokyo. Top US defence officials said the plant would enable the communist state to build more nuclear weapons.
South Korea voiced "grave concerns" and Japan denounced the news as "absolutely unacceptable".
Following talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan, Washington's special envoy Stephen Bosworth called the move provocative but "not a crisis".
The international community was alerted to the development after a US scientist revealed he had visited a modern, new uranium enrichment plant on 12 November at the North's Yongbyon nuclear complex.
Siegfried Hecker said he was told the plant was producing low-enriched uranium, but he was unable to confirm whether it was yet fully operational.
He said the facility could easily be adapted to process uranium to weapons grade.
As part of a six-nation pact, the North closed an aging gas graphite reactor in 2008 in return for international aid, and diplomatic and security benefits.
But in April 2009, it quit disarmament talks and carried out an atomic weapons test one month later.
In September last year, the North announced it had reached the final stage of enriching uranium.
In recent months, Pyongyang has disclosed a willingness to return to talks while asserting its right to be treated as a nuclear state.
This is something that Washington, Seoul and Tokyo refuse to accept.