YONGBYON, North Korea, Feb. 22, 2008 -- For years, North Korea has been producing plutonium, though just how much remains unknown. Some estimates say the country has manufactured enough plutonium to make up to a dozen nuclear bombs, but until now, no journalists have been allowed access to the country's nuclear facilities to verify these numbers.
Today, for the first time, the government allowed members of the media into the Yongbyon Nuclear Facility, and ABC News had the unique opportunity to see the state of North Korea's controversial nuclear program.
First, we were taken to a room where we were given special clothes to protect us from the radiation. We were shown a room filled with what looked like gold water, where roughly 1,500 uranium rods are stored beneath a layer of ice. We've been told that North Korea has approximately 8,000 of these uranium rods throughout other nuclear facilities in the country.
Each of these rods contains radiated fuel, which is the basis of nuclear power. That's exactly what the United States wants North Korea to dismantle. Yet the process is going far slower than anticipated. As we toured the facility, we saw workers trying to remove the rods from beneath the floor to dismantle them, but we were told only about 32 of these are dismantled per day -- far fewer than what the United States expected.
The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia -- members of the so-called six-party talks with North Korea -- have all demanded that Pyongyang act more quickly to break down its nuclear capability. They have insisted that North Korea dismantle all 8,000 of its fuel rods and end its nuclear project entirely.
Former U.S. ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg said that if Pyongyang can prove it has dismantled its nuclear program, it would make a significant change in the country's relationship with the United States.
"Once the nuclear question is solved to our satisfaction, I think things will move very quickly," he told ABC News.
North Korean officials admit the country has slowed down the pace of the dismantling of its nuclear program, but they blame the slowdown on the failure of United States and other nations to provide enough help, especially in the form of oil and gas to power their country. They also say the United States should no longer treat the country as an enemy or label it a member of the "axis of evil."
Yet as all sides remain engaged in dialogue, the North Koreans have said they will continue to keep the cooling tower at Yongbyon closed, which makes it impossible for them to make nuclear power.
This level of cooperation is encouraging, but it is not enough for the U.S. government, which still wants North Korea to admit that it had a uranium program.
In addition, suspicions have been raised that North Korea has engaged in nuclear proliferation; working with other nations, such as Syria, to develop their nuclear programs. Yet when I questioned Ri Young Ho, the director of safety at the Yongbyon Nuclear Facility, he denied those accusations.
"We believed that this kind of rumor is made by people, people who do not like the progress in the six-party talks," he said.
Though the North Koreans may not be doing exactly what the U.S. government and other nations had hoped for, this remarkable visit is a clear sign that they are anxious to demonstrate that they are keeping their side of the agreement.
ABC News' Meena Hartenstein contributed to this report.