n korean missiles 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
North Korea is planning to unload fuel rods at its Yongbyon reactor within the next three months in what would be a significant boost to its nuclear weapons capability, an American scholar said Saturday.
During a meeting this past week in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, Selig Harrison said Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan told him that North Korea would unload the rods "beginning this fall, and no later than the end of the year."
The Yongbyon reactor has been at the center of US concerns about North Korea's nuclear weapons program. The reactor's spent fuel rods can be mined for plutonium, which can then be used to construct nuclear bombs.
Removing the fuel rods is "a significant new development because it underlines that North Korea is enhancing its weapons capability," Harrison told reporters in Beijing shortly after arriving from a four-day stay in North Korea.
Harrison, director of the Asia program at the Washington-based Center for International Policy, has been an occasional visitor to North Korea, and the North's secretive government has often used him to convey messages to the outside world. During this trip, Harrison said he met with Kim Yong Dae, vice president of the Supreme People's Assembly; Lt. Gen. Ri Chan Bok, a senior military figure; as well as the foreign minister.
The North Korean officials would neither confirm nor deny the country was planning to conduct a nuclear test, Harrison said. Last month, foreign intelligence reports said unusual activity at a possible testing site had been detected.
Harrison said he believed the North Korean leadership was debating whether to conduct a test.