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NKorea test shook world: UN nuclear chief

Written by: Staff

Beijing, Dec 5: North Korea's nuclear test shook international safeguards and highlighted the need to wrest control of nuclear material processing from individual states, the chief of the UN atomic watchdog said today.

''The DPRK test is a clear setback to the nuclear non-proliferation regime,'' Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told an audience in Beijing where he is due to meet senior officials.

''The recent nuclear test by the DPRK brought the need to control the spread of enrichment and processing capabilities sharply into focus.'' The DPRK, or Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is the formal name of North Korea, which drew international condemnation for its October. 9 test and has since agreed to return to six-party disarmament talks.

Despite a flurry of diplomacy, no date has been set for those talks, which involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia and were expected by the end of 2006.

The radioactive fuel used in nuclear reactors can also be refined into weapons-grade material, a step Western countries say Iran is aiming to master, and ElBaradei said countries with such processing abilities could quickly develop atomic weapons.

The spread of civilian nuclear power in coming decades should be protected by placing atomic material processing under a multinational group that would issue fuel only for securely peaceful purposes, ElBaradei told the audience at Tsinghua University, where he received an honorary doctorate.

Growing numbers of countries are embracing nuclear power to escape from energy shortages and pollution, and many Asian countries have ambitious plans to build atomic plants, he said.

Sixteen of the 29 nuclear reactors under construction worldwide are in developing countries, and China alone plans to expand its nuclear output fivefold by 2020, ElBaradei said.

But that expansion needed to be accompanied by strict safety measures and a reworking of international safeguards to prevent atomic materials from spilling into nuclear weapons or terrorist hands, he added.

''We have to strengthen the non-proliferation regime,'' he said. ''We have to multi-nationalise the reprocessing and enrichment, because if a country does not have highly-enriched uranium or plutonium, they cannot develop nuclear weapons.''


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