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N. Korea's uranium program close to being operational: source

All Headlines 23:25 November 07, 2011

JEJU ISLAND, Nov. 7 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is close to being able to produce a small number of nuclear weapons per year through its uranium enrichment program (UEP) at the country's main nuclear plant, a senior South Korean official claimed Monday.

The official claimed the UEP at the Yongbyon nuclear complex is a "small industry" that can be used to mass produce atomic weapons, citing reports that there are some 2,000 centrifuges located there.

"It seems that North Korea has completed 70 percent of the process to be able to make one or two nuclear weapons per year," the official, asking for anonymity, told Yonhap News on the margins of a disarmament conference on the resort island of Jeju.

Pyongyang may have spent at least nine years establishing its UEP at Yongbyon, the official said, adding it is hard to monitor the nuclear facility in the communist state.

Seoul and Washington have insisted that Pyongyang suspend the program and allow international inspectors to verify the suspension ahead of the aid-for-disarmament six-party talks, which have been suspended since late 2008. Pyongyang insists on reopening the forum without any preconditions.

Highly enriched uranium can be used to make weapons, providing Pyongyang with a second way of building nuclear bombs in addition to its existing plutonium program.


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