N Korea needs years for more nuclear bombs

UNITED NATIONS - North Korea can probably restart a mothballed plutonium-producing reactor in six months if it is determined to do so and the site has suffered no major structural damage, but it may take years to produce significant new atom bomb material.

Pyongyang announced on Tuesday that it would revive the aged Yongbyon five-megawatt research reactor that yields bomb-grade plutonium, but stressed it was seeking a deterrent capacity and did not repeat recent threats to attack South Korea and the United States.

Several nuclear experts familiar with North Korea's programme said it would probably take the North Koreans about half a year to get the Yongbyon research reactor up and running, provided it has not suffered significant damage from neglect.

The decision to restart the reactor was the latest chapter in an escalating crisis that erupted after Pyongyang was hit with UN sanctions for conducting a third nuclear test in February, and the United States and South Korea staged military drills that North Korea viewed as "hostile."

Driving those threats home, the North said it has "ratified" a merciless attack against the United States, potentially involving a "diversified nuclear strike.

The Yongbyon reactor has been technically out of operation for years. But Siegfried Hecker - a Stanford University nuclear scientist who is believed to have been the last Westerner to visit the Yongbyon nuclear complex - said the Yongbyon research reactor has been on standby since July 2007.

"If they restart the reactor, which I estimate will take them at least six months, they can produce about six kilograms of plutonium (roughly one bomb's worth) per year," Hecker said in an interview published on Tuesday on a Stanford website.

He said that it would take the North approximately three to four years before it could get another 12 kg (26 lbs) of plutonium, which would suffice for two more weapons.

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