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North Korea says it will 'weaponize' its plutonium

North Korea vowed today to "weaponize" all its plutonium and threatened military action against the United States and its allies after the UN Security Council approved new sanctions to punish the communist nation for its recent nuclear test.

In a defiant statement, North Korea's Foreign Ministry also acknowledged for the first time that the country has a uranium enrichment program, and insisted it will never abandon its nuclear ambitions. Uranium and plutonium can be used to make atomic bombs.

The sanctions are "yet another vile product of the US-led offensive of international pressure aimed at undermining ... disarming DPRK and suffocating its economy," said the statement, issued by the state Korean Central News Agency.

It said the country's "development of uranium enrichment technology to guarantee nuclear fuel for its light-water nuclear reactor has been successfully going on and has entered a trial stage."

Until now, North Korea had denied the existence of a uranium enrichment program.

It was not clear if the statement was another attempt by North Korea at brinkmanship or if it was actually willing to engage in no-holds barred conflict. But it opened up the possibility that North Korea could develop nuclear weapons through either of the two materials, raising the specter of greater instability in the region.

North Korea tested its first nuclear device in 2006 and a second one on May 25 in defiance of a UN ban, attracting the latest sanctions that aim to stop the reclusive communist nation's weapons exports and financial dealings. They also allow inspections of suspect cargo in ports and on the high seas.

Despite the UN sanctions, North Korea said it was "an absolutely impossible option" for it to abandon its nuclear programs, which it called a "self defensive measure" against a hostile US policy and its nuclear threat against the North.

"An attempted blockade of any kind by the US and its followers will be regarded as an act of war and met with a decisive military response," it said without elaborating.

North Korea describes its nuclear program as a deterrent against possible US attacks. Washington says it has no intention of attacking and has expressed fear that North Korea is trying to sell its nuclear technology to other nations.

The statement also said that "the whole amount of the newly extracted plutonium (in the country) will be weaponized," and that "more than one third of the spent fuel rods has been reprocessed to date."

North Korea is believed to have enough plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs. The North also has about 8,000 spent fuel rods which, if reprocessed, could allow the country to harvest 6-8kg of plutonium — enough to make at least one nuclear bomb, experts say.

Under a 2007 six-nation deal, North Korea agreed to disable its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang in return for 1 million tons of fuel oil and other concessions. In June 2008, North Korea blew up the cooling tower there in a dramatic show of its commitment to denuclearization.

But disablement came to halt a month later as Pyongyang wrangled with Washington over how to verify its past atomic activities. The latest round of talks, in December, failed to push the process forward.

The negotiations involve China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the US.