YONGBYON, North Korea June 27, 2008— -- In North Korea today, the cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear plant, once such a closely guarded secret it could only be viewed from space, was blown up as a battery of news cameras and government officials recorded the destruction.
With a series of controlled explosions, the conical tower toppled onto itself amid a cloud of gray and white smoke and was reduced to a pile of concrete rubble.
It was a gesture by North Korea of their commitment to cease production of weapons-grade plutonium that began with Thursday's submission of long-awaited documents on North Korea's nuclear program.
The demolition of the ominous-looking tower was little more than a symbolic move, since the Yongbyon plant, which experts estimate produced enough plutonium to make about half a dozen nuclear bombs, had been shut down and disabled under the eyes of U.S. monitors.
Nevertheless, today's implosion was applauded by officials from six countries that had negotiated the deal with North Korea and watched the explosion from a viewing stand about a half mile away.
Sung Kim, the top U.S. expert on North Korea, witnessed the demolition and told ABC News the gesture put the U.S. in a good position for the next round of talks.
Kim was seen shaking hands with a North Korean official following the tower's tumble to the ground.
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey called today's event a "positive step and a welcome step."
North Korea, arguably the most secretive country in the world, invited a handful of news agencies to witness the tower's destruction as part of negotiations with six other nations led by the U.S.
ABC News was the only American broadcast news agency at the explosion.
In Washington, officials confirmed today that the U.S. agreed to pay North Korea $2.5 million to carry out the implosion.
Despite the worldwide attention on the destruction of the cooling tower, the event was not shown on North Korea's evening newscast. A female anchor, however, read a statement from the Foreign Ministry saying that it welcomes U.S. moves to lift sanctions and to remove the country from the terrorist list.
"The U.S. measure should lead to a complete and all-out withdrawal of its hostile policy toward [the North] so that the denuclearization process can proceed smoothly," the ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.