North Korea has expelled IAEA monitors from its deactivated Yongbyon reactor today, as part of a reported plan to reactivate the facility. This follows a Monday announcement that North Korea had asked the agency to remove seals and surveillance equipment from the reactor. US Envoy Christopher Hill dismissed Monday’s report as part of the “rough and tumble” negotiations with the North Koreans.
The facility included a fuel fabrication facility, a 5 MW graphite reactor and a reprocessing plant which can extract plutonium from spent fuel rods. Plutonium from the reactor was used in its 2006 test explosion of a nuclear weapon.
Destruction of the facility began in November of 2007 as part of a six-party attempt to create a “nuclear-free zone” on the Korean peninsula, and the North Koreans demolished the plant’s cooling tower in June in a high profile gesture aimed at improving confidence in the agreement.
North Korea halted the disablement late last month, however, saying that the United States had not followed through on its promise to remove it from the terrorism blacklist. Prior to the announcement, President Bush declared the North Korea was still officially a member of the “axis of evil.” The State Department cautioned against getting “overly excited” about the move.
Mohammed ElBaradei told the IAEA board that North Korea planned to reintroduce nuclear material to the facility within a week. It is believed by many that the facility can be restored to full capacity within a year.