North Korea today said all its nuclear facilities including its operational uranium-enrichment programme as also reactors mothballed or under construction would be put to use in the expansion of its nuclear weapons arsenal. The move is seen to raise the stakes in the country's escalating standoff with the US and its allies.
The announcement comes a couple of days following the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, calling for the expansion of his country's nuclear arsenal both in ''quality and quantity'' during a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.
The 5-MW graphite-moderated reactor in the North's main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, had been the main source of bomb fuel for North Korea until its shut down following a short-lived nuclear disarmament deal with Washington in 2007. The spent field unloaded from the reactor is said to have yielded enough plutonium for North Korean engineers to make at least half a dozen bombs.
With the restarting of the reactor the source of plutoniuim would be revived giving Pyongyang a key tool of leverage to deal with the US, since the North would now have two sources of fuel for atomic bombs: plutonium and its declared uranium-enrichment programme, which had added to growing concern over the North's nuclear weapons programme.
Meanwhile, yesterday, South Korean president Park Geun-hye said, if a provocative action was taken against the Korean people and the Republic of Korea (ROK), the ROK military, would make a firm response from the beginning without any other political considerations whatsoever. The president's remark came at a joint work briefing by the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, held at the Ministry of National Defense building in the Yongsan district of Seoul. She added, at present, she considered North Korea's threats to be very serious.
According to commentators the remarks were the toughest to come from Park, regarding North Korean threats and provocations. Until now, Park's responses to North Korean provocations, had always stressed a forward movement with the trust process on the Korean peninsula, based on a change in North Korea's attitude.
Her latest response is seen to be different. She directly mentioned that the North had entered into a state of war and laid down an unusually specific command to the ROK army of a firm response at the beginning of the engagement.
Following the sinking of the Cheonan, the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, and the nuclear test, North Korea had recently nullified the ceasefire agreement, severed lines of communication with the South, and at last declared that the peninsula had entered a state of war, Park said. She said as the commander in chief she would ''trust the judgment of our military, which is directly positioned to counter North Korea, in regard to the North's unexpected and surprise provocations.''