WORLD> Asia-Pacific
DPRK to resume atom closure Tuesday
Updated: 2008-10-14 09:53

VIENNA  - The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Monday restored UN monitors' access to its atom bomb complex and will resume disabling its nuclear reactor on Tuesday, the UN nuclear watchdog said, after a deal with Washington to save the process.

File satellite image of the DPRK Yongbyon nuclear reactor.[Agencies] 

The accord appears to have rescued a denuclearization process jeopardized by disputes over verification.

An IAEA statement confirmed diplomatic reports earlier in the day that the DPRKhad re-admitted IAEA monitors to Yongbyon. Pyongyang had pledged on Sunday to resume steps to eliminate its atomic bomb program in a deal with Washington. Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the UN nuclear watchdog, said the DPRK had reinstated IAEA monitoring of the 5 megawatt reactor, the nuclear fuel fabrication facility and a reprocessing plant that had producing weapons-grade plutonium.

"Agency inspectors were also informed today that, as of tomorrow, 14 October, core discharge activities at the reactor would be resumed, monitored by Agency inspectors," she said.

"(Our) inspectors will also now be permitted to re-apply containment and surveillance measures at the reprocessing facility," Fleming said in a statement.

The DPRK had barred the inspectors from Yongbyon last Thursday in anger over Washington's refusal to remove it from a sponsors-of-terrorism blacklist in a dispute over the extent of verification measures required for denuclearization.

The US State Department announced on Saturday that it had delisted DPRK after Pyongyang agreed to a series of verification steps.

A Vienna diplomat familiar with the matter said the three inspectors' first job would be to reassess the status of Yongbyon's facilities, since Pyongyang had taken steps in recent weeks to reactivate them.

Under a February 2007 disarmament deal, the DPRK was to have been removed from the US blacklist once it provided a full account of its nuclear programs and accepted a system to check its claims.

But the deal threatened to unravel after Pyongyang signaled it had no intention of letting foreign monitors scour the nation at will and poke into any military or other high-security site.

Washington's decision to delist the DPRK was made after Pyongyang agreed to access for experts to all declared nuclear facilities and, based on "mutual consent," undeclared sites.

Experts from the six nations handling the DPRK dossier -- ROK, DPRK, Russia, China, Japan and the United States -- could participate in verification, and the IAEA would have an "important consultative and support role."

Measures would encompass the plutonium bomb program as well as "any uranium enrichment and proliferation activities."

But the deal has yet to be formalized, and implementation almost certainly remains a hazardous challenge.

First, the DPRK has reported producing less plutonium than the United States has estimated, which is about 50 kg (110 lb), or, conservatively, enough for six to eight nuclear bombs.

Second, Washington wants to be able to check on suspicions that the DPRK has a covert program to enrich uranium for weapons -- giving it a second pathway to atom bomb capability -- and that it exported the proliferation-prone technology.

Most of the dismantling steps, begun last November, had been completed and were supposed to take at least a year to reverse.

As a part of the 2007 disarmament deal, the DPRK began receiving 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil, or aid of equal value such as steel, when it froze operations at Yongbyon last year and allowed in nuclear inspectors.

ROK is likely to send 3,000 tons of held-up steel aid to the DPRK once it was clear dismantling work had resumed, Yonhap news agency quoted sources as saying on Monday.