North Korean Nuclear Efforts Advancing, IAEA Chief Says

WASHINGTON -- North Korea has pressed ahead since September in its pursuit of two "deeply troubling" nuclear projects, while separate deadlocks persist over investigations of possible nuclear weapon-related activities in Iran and Syria, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano said on Thursday.

"The D.P.R.K. has continued construction of the light-water reactor and largely completed work on the exterior of the main buildings," Amano said in remarks to the 35-nation IAEA Board of Governors. The U.N. organization has repeatedly expressed alarm over the rapid progress at the facility, which the isolated nation could tap to generate plutonium for its nuclear weapons program.

"The agency remains unable to determine the reactor's design features or the likely date for its commissioning," the IAEA chief added. The Vienna, Austria-based organization has not been allowed to conduct monitoring in North Korea since April 2009.

The North says the reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear complex is intended for energy production. Estimates from different U.S. experts, though, suggest the plant could each year produce enough plutonium to power one to four nuclear weapons, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Amano said the "configuration and operational status" of a separate uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon  "cannot be established," despite continued monitoring of the site from space. North Korea asserts the uranium refinement site made public two years ago would produce fuel for the experimental reactor, but outside observers suspect the reactor is actually a cover to justify the stockpiling of refined uranium.

"The agency is ready to play an essential role in verifying the D.P.R.K.'s nuclear program," Amano said. "I again call upon the D.P.R.K. to fully comply with its obligations under relevant [U.N.] Security Council resolutions, and with the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], and to cooperate promptly and fully with the agency."

The governing board gathering was set to address U.N. nuclear monitoring efforts related to North Korea, Iran and Syria, the agency said in a press release on Thursday.

"As far as implementation of safeguards in the Syrian Arab Republic is concerned, there have been no new developments since my last report to the board. I renew my call to Syria to cooperate fully with us in connection with unresolved issues related to the Dair Alzour site and other locations," Amano said, referring to the suspected nuclear reactor site destroyed in a 2007 Israeli airstrike. Damascus, now trying to put down an armed rebellion, says the site was not nuclear in nature.

The illicit seizure of data from IAEA computer hardware in recent months was "deeply regrettable," but no guarded material concerning Iranian atomic efforts appeared to have been compromised, Reuters quoted Amano as saying on Thursday. The agency has disabled the system targeted in the attack, he said.

Amano commended Iraq and Vietnam in his statement for recently implementing the Additional Protocol to their inspections arrangements with his agency. A total of 119 states have now formally accepted the protocol, which allows IAEA monitors greater access to information and facilities to ensure that national civilian atomic operations are not turned toward weapons purposes.

"I urge remaining states to conclude Additional Protocols as soon as possible," the IAEA chief said. "I am writing to the 13 states party to the NPT which do not have comprehensive safeguards agreements in force asking them to bring such agreements into force without delay. I also call on states with small quantities protocols that have not yet done so to amend or rescind their protocols."

Other anticipated focuses of this week's governing board meeting included findings from the agency's Technical Assistance and Cooperation Committee and developments in carrying out the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety, according to the Thursday press release.

November 29, 2012
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WASHINGTON -- North Korea has pressed ahead since September in its pursuit of two "deeply troubling" nuclear projects, while separate deadlocks persist over investigations of possible nuclear weapon-related activities in Iran and Syria, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano said on Thursday.

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