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North Korea Promises to Restart Plutonium Reactor

April 2, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

MARGARET WARNER: We turn again to the Korean Peninsula, where there was yet another escalation in rhetoric today, as North Korea declared it was reactivating its nuclear facilities.

The announcement came on North Korean state television.

WOMAN: The General Department of Atomic Energy decided to adjust and alter the use of existing nuclear facilities. This includes readjusting and restarting all nuclear facilities in Yongbyon. This work will be put into practice without delay.

MARGARET WARNER: At issue, a plutonium reactor and a uranium enrichment plant both at Yongbyon, north of the capital, Pyongyang. The reactor was shuttered in 2007 amid disarmament talks. A year later, the North destroyed the facility’s cooling tower.

But, in 2009, North Korea pulled out of the talks, and it revealed its uranium enrichment program in 2010. Today’s announcement follows leader Kim Jong-un’s weekend pledge to build up the nation’s nuclear capability.

KIM JONG-UN, North Korean Leader: It is on the basis of a strong nuclear strength that peace and prosperity can exist and so can the happiness of people’s lives.

MARGARET WARNER: Last December, the North successfully launched a long-range rocket. And, in February, the country carried out its third nuclear test, leading to another round of United Nations sanctions.

Today, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon warned, nuclear threats are not a game.

U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: Things must begin to calm down, as this is a situation made worse by the lack of communication. It could lead down a path that nobody should want to follow.

MARGARET WARNER: And in Seoul, South Korea, residents expressed unease.

WOMAN: North Korea threatens us every day. I am very anxious.

MARGARET WARNER: The Pentagon said today a second U.S. guided-missile destroyer has been deployed to the Western Pacific on a missile defense mission.

This afternoon in Washington, Sec. of State John Kerry met with South Korea’s foreign minister.

SEC. OF STATE JOHN KERRY, United States: Let me be perfectly clear here today. The United States will defend and protect ourselves and our treaty ally the Republic of Korea.

MARGARET WARNER: The current condition of the North Korean facilities isn’t known, nor how long it will take to restart them.