SEOUL/NEW YORK – North Korea’s claim that it has restarted production of plutonium was met with indignation from South Korea and a rebuke from Washington.
“If North Korea has produced plutonium as reported, it is violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution that bans all nuclear-related activities,” Defense Ministry Spokesman Moon Sang-gyun told reporters in Seoul on Thursday.
He said the South Korean goverment would consult with others on a response.
Kyodo News reported the North’s claims, citing an official body there.
“We have reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods removed from a graphite-moderated reactor,” it quoted the North’s Atomic Energy Institute as saying.
The institute holds jurisdiction over North Korea’s main nuclear facilities at the country’s Nyongbyon complex. The statement was its first-ever response to questions submitted by foreign media.
The institute added, North Korea has also been producing highly enriched uranium necessary for nuclear arms and power “as scheduled.”
At a press briefing in Seoul, Moon said North Korea has continuously sought to reprocess fuel in a bid to obtain more plutonium, adding that the South Korean military has tracked its activities.
Resumption of the program may enable North Korea to increase its production of nuclear weapons.
The country is subject to multiple rounds of U.N. sanctions for its atomic tests and missile development.
The research center did not rule out a fifth nuclear test and said North Korea has already succeeded in “minimizing, making lighter and diversifying” nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, the United States rebuked North Korea.
“We’re certainly aware of the reports regarding resumed plutonium production. … If these reports are correct, it is obviously a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions which prohibit such activities,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington. “I would say these actions only serve to increase the international community’s resolve to continue to counter … North Korea’s prohibited activities.”
Toner also urged North Korea to avoid aggravating tensions in the region and live up to its international obligations for denuclearization.
He said the United States and other countries will continue to implement the tougher sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council in March.
“Our commitment to the defense of our allies in the region, and that includes the Republic of Korea, as well as Japan, remains ironclad,” Toner added.
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