SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea said yesterday it will restart its long-shuttered plutonium reactor and increase production of nuclear weapons material, in what outsiders see as its latest attempt to extract U.S. concessions by raising fears of war.
A spokesman for the North's General Department of Atomic Energy said scientists will quickly begin "readjusting and restarting" the facilities at its main Nyongbyon nuclear complex, including the plutonium reactor and a uranium enrichment plant.
Both could produce fuel for nuclear weapons.
The reactor began operations in 1986 but was shut down as part of international nuclear disarmament talks in 2007 that have since stalled. North Korea said work to restart the facilities would begin "without delay." Experts estimate it could take anywhere from three months to a year to reactivate the reactor.
The nuclear vows and a rising tide of threats in recent weeks are seen as efforts by the North to force disarmament-for-aid talks with Washington and to increase domestic loyalty to young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by portraying him as a powerful military commander.
Yesterday's announcement underscores concerns about North Korea's timetable for building a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the United States, although it is still believed to be years away from developing that technology.
The United States called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions, saying it would be "extremely alarming" if Pyongyang follows through on restarting its plutonium reactor.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States is taking steps to ensure it has the capacity to defend itself and its allies. "The entire national security team is focused on it," Carney said.
China, North Korea's only major economic and diplomatic supporter, expressed unusual disappointment with its ally. "We noticed North Korea's statement, which we think is regrettable," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.