SEOUL — North Korea said Thursday that the country had no option but to consider another nuclear test after the recent “political provocation” by the United Nations to try to indict North Korea’s leaders for crimes against humanity.
The statement from the North Korean Foreign Ministry came after a UN committee voted Tuesday to adopt a resolution that urged the Security Council to refer the leaders to the International Criminal Court for prosecution for extensive violations of human rights.
North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006, the latest in February of last year. Its threat of another test came a day after a US research institute reported that the country might be preparing to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to extract weapons-grade plutonium at its main nuclear complex north of its capital, Pyongyang.
The research organization, Johns Hopkins University’s US-Korea Institute at SAIS, reported on its website 38 North on Wednesday that recent commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center showed evidence of a lengthy reactor shutdown.
North Korea last reprocessed spent fuel in 2009, when it undertook a series of moves that raised tensions in the region, including its second nuclear test.
China, the country’s main ally, voted against the UN resolution and has indicated that it would veto any move by the Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court. But the mere suggestion that the top North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, could be held accountable in a criminal court has infuriated the North Korean government.
On Thursday, it called the resolution a “political provocation,” accusing the United States of hiring “rubber stamps” to pass the document. It said the resolution set a dangerous precedent in “politicizing and internationalizing the issue of human rights” to overthrow an independent country’s government.
“The United States’ hostile acts are leaving us no longer able to refrain from conducting a new nuclear test,” said the North Korean statement, which was carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. “Our war deterrent will be strengthened infinitely in the face of the United States’ plot for armed interference and invasion.”
In a report on Oct. 3, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security cited satellite imagery indicating the possible shutdown of a five-megawatt nuclear reactor at Yongbyon for either partial refueling or renovations. Spent fuel from that reactor remains the North’s only known source of plutonium.
In its Wednesday report, the US-Korea Institute cited what it called new evidence, such as steam rising and truck activity, that it said indicated North Korea was unloading some of the used fuel rods from the reactor and may be preparing to restart a radio-chemical laboratory at Yongbyon. The laboratory separates weapons-grade plutonium from waste materials of spent nuclear fuel.
North Korea restarted the once-mothballed Yongbyon reactor in August last year. Nuclear experts say that after a year of operation, the reactor core could contain up to five kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, roughly a bomb’s worth of fuel.