Japan is reconsidering its commitment to building light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea now that Pyongyang has reactivated nuclear facilities linked to its weapons development program in violation of a 1994 accord.
According to the United States, Pyongyang has restarted its graphite-moderated nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, which could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
Before that provocation, Japan had been hesitant to pull out of the reactor project, as such a move would close a key dialogue channel with Pyongyang and hinder Japan’s pursuit of normalizing diplomatic ties with the reclusive state.
On Friday, however, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Japan will consult with other member countries of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, which oversees the reactor project, over what steps to take.
“The KEDO project has been slowing down, and we’ll have to discuss what to do from now with KEDO group countries,” Fukuda said.
KEDO — a consortium comprising Japan, the European Union, South Korea and the United States — was established after an accord was signed in 1994 by the U.S. and North Korea. Under the agreement, two light-water nuclear reactors were to be built in North Korea and 500,000 tons of fuel oil provided during their construction in exchange for Pyongyang giving up its nuclear weapons program.
However, oil shipments ceased in December following revelations that North Korea was engaged in a uranium enrichment program.
According to government sources, KEDO members are not ready to discuss scrapping the reactor project. However, one senior official said: “We will have to start thinking about suspending KEDO and informally talk about such a possibility with the U.S. and South Korea.”
The official, who declined to be named, said that if North Korea reactivates its nuclear reprocessing plant capable of extracting plutonium from spent fuel, the government will have to get serious about putting an end to the KEDO project and imposing other sanctions.
Japan has pledged $1 billion (117 billion yen) to finance the KEDO reactor project in the form of loans, of which $320 million (37.44 billion yen) was disbursed by the end of 2002.
Washington, which has paid for the oil shipments, did not allocate any KEDO-related funds in its fiscal 2004 draft budget.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Friday that Japan will decide what to do regarding the KEDO project after carefully examining the situation.
He called Pyongyang’s recent launching of a short-range missile and the reactivation of the Yongbyon reactor “typical North Korean brinkmanship,” adding that Japan will not be suckered into responding.
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