North Korea has barred IAEA inspectors from all portions of the Yongbyon nuclear facility. They had previously expelled monitors from only a small portion of the overall facility. North Korea has had the UN remove all seals and surveillance equipment from the reactor.
The IAEA released a statement in which it said the North informed them that they were preparing to restart the facility and that monitoring activities would no longer be appropriate. US officials say that North Korea’s 2006 nuclear test explosion used plutonium harvested from the reactor.
The US has previously dismissed concerns over the moves on numerous occasions. Top negotiator Christopher R. Hill claimed the previous move was just part of the “rough and tumble” negotiations between the two nations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had no official comment on the latest move, advising people to “just wait and see over the next several days.”
North Korea stopped disablement of the facility on August 14, citing the US reneging on its promise to remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. One week before the move, President Bush declared that North Korea was still officially a member of the “axis of evil.”
The North had been disabling the facility for months beforehand, including the June destruction of the cooling tower at the nuclear plant. It has been estimated that restoring the facility to operation would take anywhere from several months to a year, but the latest move suggests that Yongbyon may be getting closer to reactivation.