SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The Obama administration’s special envoy on North Korea plans to visit South Korea, Japan and China, officials said Sunday, as fears rise that North Korea is ramping up its nuclear program.
Stephen Bosworth’s trip comes as new satellite images show construction under way at North Korea’s main atomic complex. That, combined with reports from two American experts who recently traveled to the Yongbyon complex, appear to show that Pyongyang is making good on its pledge to build a nuclear power reactor.
North Korea vowed in March to build a light-water reactor using its own nuclear fuel, and the two American experts — Siegfried Hecker, former director of the U.S. Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, and Jack Pritchard, a former U.S. envoy for negotiations with North Korea — have reportedly said that construction has begun.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that Bosworth was to arrive in Seoul on Sunday for a two-day trip aimed at discussing the North’s nuclear weapons program. The U.S. State Department said in a statement that Bosworth will then travel on to Tokyo and Beijing before flying back to Washington later this week.
Light-water reactors are ostensibly for civilian energy purposes, but the power plant would give the North a reason to enrich uranium. At low levels, uranium can be used in power reactors, but at higher levels it can be used in nuclear bombs.
While light-water reactors are considered less prone to misuse than heavy-water reactors, once the process of uranium enrichment is mastered, it is relatively easy to enrich further to weapons-grade levels.