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Monday, April 18, 2005

The New York Times > Washington > Steps at Reactor in North Korea Worry the U.S.

The New York Times > Washington > Steps at Reactor in North Korea Worry the U.S.: "April 18, 2005
Steps at Reactor in North Korea Worry the U.S.

WASHINGTON, April 17 - The suspected shutdown of a reactor at North Korea's main nuclear weapons complex has raised concern at the White House that the country could be preparing to make good on its recent threat to harvest a new load of nuclear fuel, potentially increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal.

While there is no way to know with any certainty why the reactor might have been shut down, it has been North Korea's main means of obtaining plutonium for weapons. The Central Intelligence Agency has told Congress it estimates that in the last two years the country turned a stockpile of spent fuel from the same reactor into enough bomb-grade material for more than six nuclear weapons.

The White House's concern over the past week arises from two developments. An American scholar with unusual access to North Korea's leaders, Selig S. Harrison, a longtime specialist on North Korea at the Center for International Policy in Washington, said after visiting the country two weeks ago that he was told by a very senior North Korean that there were plans 'to unload the reactor to create a situation' to force President Bush to negotiate on terms more favorable to North Korea.

That focused new attention on spy satellite photographs of the reactor, which has been watched intensively in recent months. While American officials would not discuss what the spy satellites had seen, commercial satellite photographs of the plant, taken by DigitalGlobe and interpreted by the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, show that the plant was apparently shut down or shifted to a very low power level at least 10 days ago, around the time of Mr. Harrison's visit.

Mr. Harrison's message and the satellite photographs present a mystery that has underscor"

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