Last week, Dr Siegfried Hecker (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk), an american scientist saw a vast new nuclear facility with hundreds of centrifuges for enriching uranium, when he visited North Korea, he said.
The 67-year-old Stanford University scientist said when he had been shown the centrifuges that can be used for making nuclear weapons, he was stunned at how sophisticated the new plant was, he told The New York Times.
The plan did not exist in North Korea in 2009, when international weapons inspectors were expelled, officials say.
Dr Hecker told the newspaper he saw “hundreds and hundreds” of centrifuges set up in an “ultra-modern control room”.
However he added that he did not have time to ascertain whether the site was meant to produce the low-grade uranium required for a power plant, or the highly enriched uranium used in bomb-making.
When the report came, Stephen Bosworth, a senior US state department official responsible for North Korea, was travelling to Asia, trying to revive six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.
In 2006 and 2009, North Korea, which has nuclear and missile programmes, conducted underground atomic tests.
The speed with which the country is progressing with its nuclear programme might fuel suspicions that North Korea is being helped from abroad, which is prevented by United Nations sanctions.
In March 46 South Korean sailors died when their warship sank, allegedly because of North Korea. This event rose tensions which stalled multinational talks on how to end the North’s nuclear programme.
In January 2004, Dr Hecker, former head of the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, was a member of an unofficial US delegation who were shown a secret nuclear complex at Yangbyon in North Korea.