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‘Centrifuge rods’ from North Korea seized from ship in Tokyo

AFP-JIJI

Japan has seized aluminium alloy rods that can be used to make nuclear centrifuges from a Singapore-flagged ship found to be carrying cargo from North Korea, the government said Monday.

The five rods were discovered on the ship during its call at Tokyo port last August and were confirmed to be aluminium alloy through tests conducted over the past six months, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

“The aluminium alloy is extremely strong and can be used in centrifuges, which are products related to nuclear development,” Suga said at a regular news briefing.

The rods were being stored at a private warehouse and the government on Monday ordered the firm to hand them over.

The items are the first to be confiscated under a special law passed in 2010 that allows Tokyo to inspect North Korea-related ships suspected of carrying materials that can be used in nuclear and missile programs.

The ship was reportedly on its way to Myanmar when it arrived in Tokyo via the Chinese port of Dalian. Suga confirmed the ship arrived via Dalian but said its cargo was bound for a “third country.”

The North has conducted three nuclear weapons tests, in 2006, 2009 and last month, and disclosed in 2010 that it is developing a program to enrich uranium using centrifuges. That would give it a second way to produce material for atomic weapons, in addition to its long-standing plutonium program.

United Nations sanctions resolutions require member states to inspect cargo suspected to be linked to the North’s nuclear development.

Myanmar was suspected of pursuing military and nuclear cooperation with North Korea during the long rule of the military junta, which finally came to an end in 2011.

The White House said last November that the slowly democratizing nation had taken “positive steps” to reduce its military relationship with the North.