U.S. proposing dispersal of N. Korea reactor rods

June 30, 1994|By New York Times News Service

VIENNA, Austria -- The United States will ask North Korea to surrender some 8,000 plutonium-bearing reactor fuel rods to a third country, such as Russia or China, or entomb them indefinitely in a concrete sarcophagus as part of any settlement to the dispute over its nuclear program.

Any country receiving the spent reactor fuel would be expected to reprocess it and store the extracted plutonium under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency, thus insuring North Korea does not use it for nuclear weapons.

This plan for exporting or burying North Korea's reactor rods, diplomats and officials of the agency here say, will be one of a number of proposals the United States is likely to make at next week's Geneva meeting with North Korea when it sets out terms for settling the quarrel over whether Pyongyang is secretly building atomic weapons.

Other conditions are expected to include a demand for international inspectors to continue monitoring the fuel rods until they are permanently disposed of and for North Korea eventually to make its nuclear program totally transparent, just as South Africa did after it confessed building several atomic bombs and agreed to sign the treaty to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

The International Atomic Energy Agency then sent 22 separate missions to inspect over 160 sites around the country before it declared itself completely satisfied that South Africa had abandoned its military nuclear program.

The United States has asked the agency to give it by tomorrow a list of all the conditions North Korea must meet to fulfill its obligations under the treaty and become a member of the agency in good standing again.

At Geneva, the United States team will really be negotiating on behalf of the agency when it presses North Korea to give up its military nuclear program because the agency is charged with ensuring countries that sign the treaty also respect its provisions.

zTC On the other hand, it's up to the Clinton administration to decide what it can realistically expect North Korea to accept as well as what carrots, in the form of economic and political inducements, it should offer North Korea in return for cooperating with the agency at these talks.

The emphasis the agency and the United States are now placing on securing the future of the fuel rods removed earlier this month from North Korea's research reactor in defiance of agency orders, reflects intelligence estimates that they contain some 66 to 88 pounds of plutonium, or enough for six or so nuclear bombs. This is far more plutonium, officials and diplomats here say, than North Korea could have acquired when it closed down the same reactor in 1989 and possibly removed some fuel rods for reprocessing.

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