Friday, June 27, 2008

North Korea Demolished Nuclear Reactor Cooling Tower

In front of TV cameras, international journalists and diplomats, the base of the cylindrical, 60-foot tall cooling tower structure was blown off by an explosion marking the stoppage and destruction of North Korea’s plutonium atomic bomb program. This cooling tower was a part the main reactor’s facility complex in Yongbyon, North Korea. Such explosion on Friday is the most visible symbol of the country’s commitment and decision to stop its nuclear weapons program.

U.S. State Department's top expert Sung Kim who witnessed the event said, "This is a significant and very important step in the disablement process and I think it puts us in a good position to move into the next phase … As I saw it, it was a complete demolition," as he addressed the Koreans who attended the demolition. Kim shook hands with a North Korean official following the tower's tumble to the ground.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the tower's destruction would mark a step toward disablement, something that has been ongoing for many months to prevent the North from making more plutonium for bombs. In Kyoto, Japan, she said on the sidelines of a meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized countries, "It is important to get North Korea out of the plutonium business, but that will not be the end of the story."

It could be well noted, almost a year ago, July, 2007, when N. Korea announced shutting down its nuclear reactor as a backward step from confrontation with the United States towards concrete step to disarmament and denuclearization. At that time, the conditions of the deal are: the UN inspectors are to confirm Yongbyon reactor shutdown; UN to stay on site while North Korea negotiates further steps towards disarmament with US, Russia, Japan, South Korea and China; North Korea must provide a list of all its nuclear programs to the other states; North Korea to receive 950,000 tones of heavy fuel oil as emergency energy assistance; and U.S. has to begin talks to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

It is also interesting to recall, 20 months ago, N. Korea has shocked the world when it detonated a nuclear bomb in an underground test to confirm its status as an atomic power.

Many experts and analysts believe that while the destruction of the tower is not, in itself, a huge step forward, it is still being seen as an important gesture.

This move made by the North Korea generates some questions particularly among the neighbors in the region, is this enough to diminish if not to dispel regional fears and suspicions?

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