IAEA pays a friendly visit

1 March 2002

The International Atomic Energy Agency has made its first visit to a nuclear establishment in North Korea since 1994, when the isolationist Asian state withdrew its membership of the agency.

The visit is understood to have been facilitated by the North Koreans' desire to move ahead with the construction of two light water nuclear reactors. Under an agreement with the IAEA, the North Koreans agreed to freeze their military nuclear development programme in exchange for the two reactors, which were to be constructed by an international consortium drawing on expertise from South Korea and the USA. However, the delivery of the reactors has been put on hold amid continuing concern that North Korea has not allowed the IAEA full and open access to its nuclear facilities.

The three-man team, led by the IAEA's head of operations, Olli Heinonen, spent five days in the country in January, visiting an isotope production laboratory in the Nyongbyon region, which North Korea says is used for the production of medical and industrial isotopes, though they admit it did previously form part of their nuclear programme.

A spokeswoman for the IAEA said: "This was a visit rather than an inspection. The atmosphere was very friendly and co-operative. We would of course feel much more confident if North Korea would allow a full inspection. The tricky bit is that, before the main components of the two light water reactors can be delivered, North Korea has to allow the inspectors in."

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