Reactor programme restart spells more trouble for KEDO project

1 January 2003

In response to the suspension of fuel oil shipments, North Korea has announced that it would restart its programme of Soviet-designed gas-graphite reactors.

Restarting work on three nuclear reactors - a 5MWe idled research reactor and two power reactors with capacities of 50MWe and a 200MWe - would be a violation of the 1994 Framework Agreement between North Korea and the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO). Reports suggest that construction of the power reactors could be completed within two years.

However, the KEDO project to build two 1000MWe PWR reactors is still continuing, and the units are almost 30% complete. These reactors, along with the fuel oil shipments, were to be supplied to North Korea under the Framework Agreement, in return for North Korea cancelling its programme to develop nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has admitted that it has never been able to confidently verify whether North Korea has complied with the Framework Agreement. In a statement issued after North Korea announced that it was to cease allowing the IAEA to monitor its plants using seals and cameras, the IAEA said: "Since 1993 it has drawn the conclusion that North Korea is in non-compliance with its obligations under the Agreement. In other words, the Agency has never had the complete picture regarding North Korean nuclear activities and has never been able to provide assurances regarding the peaceful character of its nuclear programme." IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei said that North Korea had removed seals in the spent fuel pool of its experimental 5MWe reactor, containing some 8000 fuel rods, and had "impeded" the functioning of essential IAEA surveillance equipment. He said: "It is deplorable that North Korea has not responded to repeated requests I have made for an urgently needed discussion on safeguards issues in North Korea in order for North Korea to come into compliance with its non-proliferation treaty safeguards agreement."

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