Mullen: N. Korea nuclear report shows belligerence

Facility is "astonishingly modern," says scientist; US chairman of Joint Chiefs says North is "on a path which is destabilizing for region."

Adm. Mike Mullen 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Adm. Mike Mullen 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON — The US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Sunday said a report that North Korea is stepping up its nuclear program is more evidence of the country's belligerent behavior.
An American nuclear scientist who recently visited North Korea said he was taken to a small industrial-scale uranium enrichment facility and told that low-enriched uranium was being produced for a new reactor.
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Adm. Mike Mullen, the top US military officer, said such activities would violate UN Security Council resolutions and agreements by North Korea over its nuclear program.
"From my perspective, it's North Korea continuing on a path which is destabilizing for the region. It confirms or validates the concern we've had for years about their enriching uranium, which they've denied routinely," he said. "They are a country that routinely we are unable to believe that they would do what they say."
Noting the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March, which killed 46 sailors and has been blamed on North Korea, Mullen said on CNN's "State of the Union" that "all of this is consistent with belligerent behavior, the kind of instability-creation in a part of the world that is very dangerous."
Earlier on Saturday, the American nuclear scientist raised fears that the North is ramping up its nuclear program despite international pressure.
The scientist, Siegfried Hecker, said that he was taken to the North's main Yongbyon atomic complex, a facility with a small industrial-scale uranium enrichment facility. The facility had 2,000 recently completed centrifuges, he said.
Hecker wrote that his first glimpse of the centrifuges was "stunning."
"Instead of seeing a few small cascades of centrifuges, which I believed to exist in North Korea, we saw a modern, clean centrifuge plant of more than a thousand centrifuges all neatly aligned and plumbed below us," Hecker wrote.
He described the control room as "astonishingly modern," writing that, unlike other North Korean facilities, it "would fit into any modern American processing facility."
The facilities appeared to be primarily for civilian nuclear power, not for North Korea's nuclear arsenal, said Hecker, former director of the US Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory and a regular visitor to the North. He said he saw no evidence of plutonium production. But, he said, the facilities "could be readily converted to produce highly enriched uranium bomb fuel."
Uranium enrichment would give the North a second way to make atomic bombs, in addition to its known plutonium-based program. Hecker's findings were first reported in The New York Times.