N. Korea Blows Up Nuke Plant Cooling Tower

Destruction of plant's cooling tower was N. Korean's gesture of cooperation.


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.

The Foreign Ministry called on the other countries in the six party talks -- China, Russia, Japan and South Korea -- to pay it "economic compensation."

This morning's fireworks were the culmination of five years of difficult negotiations aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and eventually any nuclear arsenal it might possess.

North Korea handed over on Thursday a roughly 60 page dossier that was expected to detail its nuclear efforts, allowing the U.S. and other countries to determine exactly how much plutonium the country had produced.

In response to the dossier, President Bush held a Rose Garden news conference Thursday to say he would move to lift some sanctions against North Korea and remove the country from the administration's list of countries that support terrorism.

The president's action can be rescinded over the next 45 days if the administration determines that North Korea's documents are insufficient or its regime is not cooperating on the next stage of talks.

The documents, which were presented six months later than promised, have not been made public. They were handed over on Thursday to Chinese officials, who have passed them on to other nations involved in the talks. State Department officials confirmed that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her team, who are traveling in Asia, have received their copies.

Casey would not provide any details of the declaration's content, but said that there is nothing in it so far that would lead the U.S. to reverse its plans to take North Korea off the terror list and lift some sanctions.

The State Department indicated that the Six Party Talks would resume "in the near future" but wouldn't say when or where.

Casey said the meeting is intended to hammer out the next steps to be taken in the denuclearization of North Korea, including dismantling its nuclear facilities, determining how the U.S. and other countries will be able to verify North Korea's compliance, and how to approach the likelihood that North Korea has a nuclear arsenal.

North Korea shocked the world by detonating an underground nuclear blast 20 months ago, but it remained unclear whether it had been able to develop a bomb.

Sources told ABC News the meeting is expected to be convened on Monday in Beijing.

ABC's Ann Compton in Washington and Johee Cho in South Korea contributed to this report

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