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[cdn-nucl-l] Work Starts on North Korea's U.S.-Backed Nuclear Plant
Posted in the New York Times on August 7, 2002 and at:
Work Starts on North Korea's U.S.-Backed Nuclear Plant
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
UMHO, North Korea, Aug. 7 - With the first Bush administration envoy to
visit North Korea joining in a rare ceremony, work began today on the
foundation of a long-planned nuclear reactor, by far the largest Western
aid project in this Communist nation and one on which its future
cooperation with the outside world will hinge.
The $4.6 billion reactor to be built here was first envisaged in 1994,
when the United States and North Korea were edging toward war over
suspicions that this country was trying to build nuclear weapons. It has
been repeatedly delayed by North Korea's jagged relations with the
United States and other nations.
Today, a succession of Western diplomats mounted the podium to declare
the project the best hope for preventing nuclear proliferation - and to
urge North Korea to take convincing steps to comply with the pact that
undergirds relations with the United States.
Under that pact, the so-called Agreed Framework, negotiated in 1994,
Washington committed itself to organizing an international consortium to
build two light-water nuclear reactors for this poor country. In
exchange, North Korea agreed to abandon and dismantle two existing
graphite reactors, as well as a third that was under construction. North
Korea - which President Bush this year identified as one of three
nations belonging to an "axis of evil" - was also required to account
for all plutonium it had produced and place it under international
Time and again today, American and European officials hammered home the
point that any hesitation now on the part of North Korea to open itself
up to inspectors would result in a freeze in construction, leaving two
coreless reactor shells in place and North Korea no closer to meeting
its energy needs.
North Korea "must begin meaningful work with the energy agency right
now," the United States special envoy here, Jack L. Pritchard, said.
"The Agreed Framework has been a key component of U.S.-North Korean
policy," he said. "When we agreed to the terms of the Agreed Framework,
we did so with the full expectation that all aspects of our concerns
over North Korea's nuclear program would be resolved finally and
Critics of the agreement have said that it is folly for the United
States and its allies in the European Union, Japan and South Korea to
give nuclear power plants to a country that remains technically at war
with South Korea and maintains one of the world's largest armies, even
while its economy collapses.
They also complain that North Korea has failed, so far, to allow
unhindered inspection of its nuclear facilities by experts from the
International Atomic Energy Agency and warn that North Korea may simply
use the powerful light-water reactors to produce new supplies of
Officials of the consortium building the plants, the Korean Peninsula
Energy Development Organization, however, dismissed concerns that North
Korea would be given operable nuclear power plants before it had
cooperated fully with international inspectors. Furthermore, they say,
the design of the new reactors would make it far more difficult, albeit
not impossible, for North Korea to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
If the North Koreans do not cooperate with the international energy
agency, "there is no chance whatsoever that they will get delivery of
the critical components for these reactors," said Charles Kartman, the
executive director of the consortium. "What they will end up with
instead is a big hole in the ground, a lot of concrete and some steel
fixtures. Do you want a completely uncontrolled nuclear program here, or
do you want the agreed framework? You have to choose."
The international energy agency has said that it would require about
three years to complete a survey of North Korea's nuclear-related plants
and laboratories. Western diplomats said here today that this put a
premium on timely cooperation from North Korea because the reactors
under construction here would also be ready to receive their nuclear
materials in about three years.
Mr. Pritchard said his presence reflected the Bush administration's
continued support for the Agreed Framework, which has been criticized by
some in Congress, as well as by members of both the Clinton and Bush
Almost from its inauguration, the Bush administration has sent mixed
signals about North Korea and has reacted skeptically toward South
Korea's efforts toward reconciliation with the North, through President
Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine" policy.
Washington's reaffirmation of the nuclear project under the Agreed
Framework, however, is regarded by many diplomats in Asia as an
expression of continuity in American policy toward North Korea.
The graphite-style reactors built here in the past are regarded by
scientists as optimal for the production of weapons-grade plutonium.
North Korea is suspected of having produced two nuclear weapons and is
known to possess enough plutonium for an additional 10 bombs.
North Korea closed those reactors in 1994 and has allowed the
International Atomic Energy Agency to post monitors to safeguard the
nuclear material from the plants. North Korea must also account for an
unspecified amount of "missing" plutonium, which diplomats say may
already be incorporated in weapons.
"The Agreed Framework is not appeasement," said one official who is
close to the construction project here. "It takes away rights that the
North Koreans had, to possess a reprocessing plant and graphite
reactors, and it has placed I.A.E.A. inspectors on the old reactor site
365 days a year.
"The critics would have us throw this away, but this is a real source of