N Korea set for nuke shutdown

Pyongyang - North Korea was yesterday expected to start an unprecedented disabling of the nuclear programme it has pursued for half a century, under the supervision of a US team of experts.

The communist state's official media gave no information on whether work had started at the Yongbyon complex.

But US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said at the weekend that a US supervisory team was set to begin work by yesterday.

North Korea, which staged its first nuclear test in October last year, has agreed with five negotiating partners to declare and disable all its programmes by year end in return for energy aid and diplomatic benefits.

In July it took the first step by shutting down its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon. Disablement aims to make the reactor and other plants unusable for at least a year while talks on total denuclearisation continue.

North Korea will receive energy aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars in return for disablement.

If it goes on next year to dismantle the plants and give up its plutonium stockpile and nuclear weapons, it can expect normalised relations with Washington and a peace pact to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The aim of disablement is to avoid a re-run of what happened in 2002, when a 1994 denuclearisation pact with the US fell apart.

Despite an eight-year shutdown, North Korea quickly resumed production of plutonium and now has an estimated 45-65kg, enough to build several bombs.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency, quoting diplomatic sources, said chief nuclear negotiators from the six nations - the two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia - recently agreed on 11 disablement measures at the three main plants at Yongbyon. - Sapa-AFP