[imText1]North Korea showed an American nuclear scientist an “ultra-modern” uranium enrichment plant during a visit to the country earlier this month, it was revealed in a report on Saturday.
The news comes after the same scientist, Siegfried Hecker, revealed last weekend that construction efforts visible on satellite images of the Yongbyon nuclear research facility are purportedly the foundations of an experimental light-water nuclear reactor (LWR).
Hecker, a former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, made this, his fourth visit to North Korea, during the week of November 8th, viewing the enrichment facility on the 12th.
According to Hecker’s official report into the visit released on a Stanford University website, North Korean officials told him, “We will convert (the Yongbyon facility) to an LWR and pilot enrichment facility,” adding, “It is a high priority to develop uranium enrichment.”
The Hecker report describes an “astonishingly modern” facility housed on the site of a former fuel rod fabrication building at Yongbyon containing “more than a thousand” (North Korean officials said 2,000) enrichment centrifuges. It adds that officials said construction on the enrichment facility began in April 2009, and ended shortly before his visit.
Hecker said his guides for the three and a half hour visit were clearly under orders to be vague about what was being shown, explaining, “Unlike in my previous visits to Yongbyon, the technical team clearly had instructions to show us only the basics at two facilities and answer a minimum of questions. We were hurried along at every stage.”
The guides asserted that the plant is configured to produce low enriched uranium (LEU) suitable for civilian energy generation, but in his report Hecker notes that conversion to produce weapons-grade uranium would not take long.
On the LWR itself, Hecker said he was told that construction began on July 31st this year and is scheduled for completion in 2012. However, he believes the date to be “unreasonably optimistic.”
Meanwhile, Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. point man on North Korea, sought to calm nerves following a meeting this morning with South Korea’s Foreign Minister, Kim Sung Hwan, in Seoul.
“I would not accept that our policy toward North Korea is a failure,” Bosworth told reporters. “This is a very difficult problem that we have been struggling to deal with for almost 20 years.”
“We have to incorporate this now into our strategy as we move forward,” he added.