September 26, 2014 / 4:26 PM / 5 years ago

U.N. nuclear assembly condemns North Korea reactor restart

VIENNA (Reuters) - Member states of the U.N. atomic watchdog condemned on Friday North Korea’s efforts to develop its nuclear capabilities, including the restart of a reactor which experts say can yield atomic bomb material.

The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flies in front of its headquarters during a board of governors meeting in Vienna November 28, 2013. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

North Korea announced in April of last year that it would revive its aged five-megawatt research reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, saying it was seeking a deterrent capacity.

The isolated East Asian state, which quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993, defends its nuclear arms program as a “treasured sword” to counter what it sees as U.S.-led hostility.

Earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report that it had seen via satellite imagery releases of steam and water indicating that North Korea may be operating the reactor.

However, as the IAEA has not had inspectors on the ground since they were expelled by North Korea in 2009, it said it could not confirm the facility’s operational status.

The annual member state conference of the 162-nation IAEA, in a resolution adopted unanimously, said it “strongly deplores” all North Korea’s nuclear activities, including “the restart of the 5 MW graphite moderated reactor” and the operation and extension of a uranium enrichment plant.

The Canadian-drafted text urged North Korea - which left the IAEA two decades ago and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 - to “halt all such activities and any efforts to readjust or expand its nuclear facilities”.

The Yongbyon reactor had been technically out of operation for years. North Korea destroyed its cooling tower in 2008 as a confidence-building step in negotiations with South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

When North Korea said it planned to revive it, experts said it would probably take about half a year to get it up and running, if it had not suffered significant damage from neglect.

While North Korea has long boasted of making strides in acquiring a “nuclear deterrent”, there had been general scepticism that it could master the step of miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to mount on a ballistic missile.

But there has been a shift in thinking since it conducted a nuclear test in February last year - its third since 2006 - and some experts have said it may be closer than previously thought to putting a nuclear warhead on a missile.

The IAEA conference also called on North Korea to refrain from carrying out a fourth nuclear test.

Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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