North Korea claims final stage uranium enrichment

North Korea said Friday that it is in the final stages of enriching uranium, a process that could give the nation a second way to make nuclear bombs in addition to its known plutonium-based program.

North Korea informed the UN Security Council it is forging ahead with its nuclear programs in spite of international calls to abandon its atomic ambitions, the official Korean Central News Agency said in a report early today.

The dispatch said plutonium "is being weaponized," and that uranium enrichment — a program North Korea revealed in recent months — was entering the "completion phase."

The US and North Korea's neighbors had been negotiating for years with North Korea to dismantle its plutonium-based nuclear program, which experts say has yielded enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs.

Experts had long suspected that the North also had a covert uranium enrichment program, which would give the regime a second source of nuclear material. North Korea for years denied the claim but in response to UN sanctions announced in June that it would begin uranium enrichment.

It's easier to build nuclear bombs using enriched uranium than reprocessing plutonium, and uranium can be enriched in relatively inconspicuous factories better able to evade spy-satellite detection, according to experts in the U.S. and at South Korea's Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Control.

Uranium-based bombs may also work without requiring test explosions like the two carried out by North Korea in May and in 2006 for plutonium-based weapons.

However, plutonium bombs have more potential to be miniaturized to fit on top of a missile, one expert, Ivan Oelrich of the Federation of American Scientists, has said.

North Korea is not believed to have mastered making a nuclear bomb small enough to mount in a long-range missile. An April rocket launch widely condemned by international powers and the UN Security Council was seen by many as a test of its long-range missile technology.

Friday's statement comes amid a series of conciliatory moves after months of provocation, from the April rocket launch and May nuclear test to the test-firing of a flurry of missiles.

North Korea called its actions a response to the Security Council's decision to tighten sanctions against the regime as punishment for the May nuclear test, a resolution KCNA called a "wanton violation" of the country's sovereignty.

The US, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea have been trying for years to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for much-needed aid and other concessions. Pyongyang walked away from the talks earlier this year.

The North says it needs the nuclear program as a security guarantee against a threat from the U.S., which has 28,500 troops based in South Korea, which technically remains at war with the North because their three-year conflict in the early 1950s ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

"We are prepared for both dialogue and sanctions," the KCNA report said, warning it would be left with no choice but to take "yet stronger self-defensive countermeasures" if the standoff continues. It did not elaborate on the possible countermeasures.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry expressed regret and urged the communist country to abandon its nuclear weapons programs and return to the stalled disarmament talks.

"The North's move to continue provocative steps ... can never be tolerated. We will deal with North Korea's threats and provocative acts in a stern and consistent manner," the ministry said in a statement.

In Washington, a US State Department spokesman said Thursday night that he had no immediate comment.

The United States' envoy on North Korea, meanwhile, was in Beijing for talks with Chinese officials on how to get North Korea back to disarmament talks. Stephen Bosworth was to arrive in Seoul later Friday to speak to South Korean officials before traveling to Tokyo on Sunday.

His visit to the region aims to "continue consultations with our partners and allies on how to best convince North Korea that it must live up to its obligations ... and take irreversible steps toward complete denuclearization," the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said in a statement.

KCNA said Friday that North Korea has never objected to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and left open possibility for dialogue with some permanent members of the Security Council — an apparent reference to the U.S.

The North has long sought one-on-one negotiations with Washington. The US has said it is willing to hold direct talks with Pyongyang, but under the framework of the six-nation disarmament talks.

In a promising sign, North Korea has freed two jailed American journalists and five detained South Koreans in recent weeks. The two Koreas also agreed to restart the reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, and restored regular cross-border traffic to a joint factory park in the North.

Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung expressed hope that the North's latest move would not disrupt the family reunions set for later this month.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own