WASHINGTON (AP) — North Korea secretly and with unusual speed has built a large new facility to enrich uranium, says an American nuclear scientist who visited the site, according to The New York Times.
The scientist, Siegfried Hecker, told the newspaper in an interview that he was "stunned" by the sophistication of the enrichment facility which included hundreds of newly installed centrifuges. The facility has what he described as an "ultra-modern control room."
Hecker, a professor at Stanford University and former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, privately informed the White House of his findings a few days ago, said the newspaper in an account published late Saturday on its Web site.
Hecker, who left North Korea last week, had previously described the construction by the North Korean regime of an experimental light-water reactor, confirming satellite photographs that had recently been made public.
But until now, Hecker has made no mention of the discovery of a new uranium enrichment operation that can be used to produce weapons grade material. He told the Times that the North Koreans claimed 2,000 centrifuges had already been installed and were running.
It was unclear as to why the North provided Hecker with access to the facility and attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
It could be a negotiating ploy. Or the facility could be an indicator that North Korea may be preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal or possibly build a more powerful atomic warhead.
The facility apparently has been built with surprising speed.
U.S. officials are certain no such facility existed in April 2009 when the last international nuclear inspectors were thrown out of the country.
The Obama administration could use the information gathered by Hecker as evidence that North Korea continues to forge ahead with its nuclear program in violation of United Nations mandates.
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