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Row over North Korea refuelling Yongbuyon reactor

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(June 3, 1994) An international quarrel has developed around the replacement of spent fuel in the 5 megawatt experimental reactor in Yonghyon, North Korea.

(413.4092) WISE Amsterdam - A Foreign Ministry's spokesman confirmed that the process had started without IAEA presence. Allegedly, the IAEA was not notified and wants to make various tests at the reactor and supervise the refueling as stated in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Agency also wants to collect samples of spent nuclear fuel to assess whether North Korea has diverted material for use in a suspected nuclear weapons development program.

Determining the age of the rods would enable verification of North Korean claims that none has been removed from the reactor since they were first inserted in 1986, despite the suspicion that centers around a mysterious shutdown in 1989. Kim Dai-ho, a former official at a North Korean reprocessing plant who defected to South Korea on May 7, charged North Korea of secretly extracting 12 kg (26.4 lb) of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel despite its public denials. 'If you have 12 kg of plutonium, you can make two nuclear bombs," said Kim in the Tokyo daily of May 23.

NATO defense ministers, meeting in Brussels, discussed the threat posed by the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons. In a statement issued after the meeting, NATO said North Korea's attitude "and its history of exporting ballistic missiles and weapons technology to regions of instability pose a grave risk to peace and stability in the Far East and globally."

Through the (North) Korean Central News Agency, a spokesman of the Pyongyang Institute of Disarmament and Peace accused the United States of continuously promoting the modernization of its own nuclear weapons and turning a blind eye on the nuclear capability of its allies, while casting doubt on nuclear activity in other countries and even calling for 'sanctions' against them. He stated that the U.S. has attempted to trample on the sovereignty of small countries by employing a double standard on the nuclear issue.

South Korean, U.S. and Japanese officials have threatened North Korea to request the UN Security Council to impose economic sanctions. Pyongyang agreed to hold talks with the IAEA only after an official message of China, asking North Korea to allow the IAEA to observe the process, according to a high-rank diplomatic source in Beijing. The talks started in Pyongyang on May 25 and failed a few days later. According to Dutch TV news-report the IAEA was not allowed to observe the refueling and left North Korea after that. The refueling restarted. The UN General Assembly demanded North Korea to fully co-operate with the IAEA, but so far no economic sanctions are imposed. But it is likely that the US and Japan will asked for them in the near future.


  • Trouw (NL), 25 May 1994
  • Reuter, several items Greenbase, 14, 19, 24, 25 May 1994
  • Dutch TV- News, 28 May 1994
  • Dutch Radio News, 31 May 1994