Vienna: A report from the UN nuclear agency on Saturday strengthened suspicions that, like Iran, North Korea turned to black market suppliers to set up a uranium enrichment plant revealed only last year.
The International Atomic Energy Agency report says the layout of equipment and other details observed by a visiting US group were "broadly consistent" with designs sold by a "clandestine supply network."
The confidential report made available to a press agency seems to allude to the black market suppliers led by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. That group provided Iran with the backbone of what was a clandestine nuclear program before it was revealed eight years ago.
Khan was the main supplier of centrifuges used to enrich uranium before his operation was disrupted in 2003. Enrichment can create both reactor fuel of the fissile core of nuclear weapons.
The agency report said the plant was set up after IAEA inspectors were ordered to leave in April 2009, when five-nation talks with the North broke down and Pyongyang restarted its nuclear program.
Unless the purchases were recent and from previously unknown suppliers, that would indicate that the centrifuges were bought before the Khan network was dismantled and were in storage until two years ago.
The North tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009 based on plutonium, another fissile source. It denied US assessments that it had a secret uranium enrichment program until November 12, when it allowed a small group led by American scientist Siegfried Hecker to inspect the facility.
Hecker subsequently informed the US government of what he saw, including a sophisticated enrichment facility that he said included hundreds of newly installed centrifuges.
The IAEA, which said it interviewed Hecker, said on Saturday the enrichment plant contained about 2,000 centrifuges and the North Koreans told the visitors that the machines operating and configured to produce low-enriched uranium, used for reactor fuel.