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DPRK restarts nuclear plant to harvest atomic bomb material

THE Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has restarted its nuclear facilities to harvest plutonium for atomic weapons, the government said yesterday, just hours after the United Nations imposed new sanctions on the country for its recent rocket launch.

Though it could take months before the facility is fully operational, the move is a key step away from a 2007 disarmament deal - signed months after the DPRK conducted a nuclear test - that called for the nation to disable its atomic facilities in exchange for much-needed energy aid.

"The reprocessing of spent fuel rods from the pilot atomic power plant has begun," a DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesman said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. "This will contribute to bolstering the nuclear deterrence for self-defense in every way to cope with the increasing military threats from the hostile forces."

The new UN sanctions approved Friday require nations that have dealings with three North Korean companies - the Korea Mining Development Trading Corp, Korea Ryongbong General Corp and Tanchon Commercial Bank - to freeze their assets.

The deputy chief of North Korea's diplomatic mission to the United Nations, Pak Tok Hun, rejected the decision.

"The peaceful use of space is a right that cannot be deprived of any country," Pak said, according to the Republic of Korea's Yonhap news agency.

With North Korea believed to have enough weaponized plutonium to build half a dozen or more atomic bombs, neighboring powers and the United States have been trying for years to stem the country's nuclear ambitions.

A 2006 long-range missile test and an underground nuclear test just months later prompted UN sanctions against North Korea, barring it from ballistic missile-°?related activity.

In February 2007, North Korea agreed to dismantle its atomic program in exchange for 1 million tons of fuel oil and other concessions.

Disablement began in November 2007, with North Korea completing eight of 11 required steps. But the process came to an abrupt halt weeks later because of a dispute with the US over how to verify North Korea's 18,000-page list of past nuclear activities. The latest talks, in December, failed to end the deadlock.


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