North Korea vows to restart nuclear facilities

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Tuesday it will restart its long-shuttered plutonium reactor and increase production of nuclear weapons material, in what outsiders see as its latest attempt to extract U.S. concessions by raising fears of war.

A spokesman for the North’s General Department of Atomic Energy said scientists will quickly begin “readjusting and restarting” the facilities at its main Nyongbyon nuclear complex, including the plutonium reactor and a uranium enrichment plant. Both could produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

The reactor began operations in 1986 but was shut down as part of international nuclear disarmament talks in 2007 that have since stalled. North Korea said work to restart the facilities would begin “without delay.” Experts estimate it could take anywhere from three months to a year to reactivate the reactor.

The nuclear vows and a rising tide of threats in recent weeks are seen as efforts by the North to force disarmament-for-aid talks with Washington and to increase domestic loyalty to young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by portraying him as a powerful military commander.

Tuesday’s announcement underscores concerns about North Korea’s timetable for building a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the United States, although it is still believed to be years away from developing that technology.

The U.S. called for North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions, saying it would be “extremely alarming” if Pyongyang follows through on a vow to restart its plutonium reactor.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. is taking steps to ensure it has the capacity to defend itself and its allies, and that President Barack Obama is being updated regularly. “The entire national security team is focused on it,” Carney said.

But Carney noted that a string of threats from North Korea toward the U.S. and South Korea so far have not been backed up by action, calling the threats part of a counterproductive pattern. He called on Russia and China, two countries he said have influence on North Korea, to use that influence to persuade the North to change course.

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