North Korea kept its word today on one point of the new agreement to end its nuclear-weapons programs, and did so in intentionally spectacular fashion. Kim Jong-Il had the cooling tower at the Yongbyon reactor site demolished today in front of observers from the international media, putting an exclamation point to the end of operations at the site that produced the material for its nukes:
North Korea destroyed the most visible symbol of its nuclear weapons program Friday in a sign of its commitment to stop making plutonium for atomic bombs.
The demolition of the 60-foot-tall cooling tower at its main reactor complex is a response to U.S. concessions after the North delivered a declaration Thursday of its nuclear programs under an agreement at international arms talks.
A single blast at the base of the cylindrical structure sent the tower collapsing into a cloud of white and gray smoke as international journalists and diplomats looked on, according to video footage filmed by broadcaster APTN at the site. Those at the event later pored over the shattered pieces of the tower.
The demolition was mostly for dramatic effect. It makes Yongbyon useless, but the fuel rods had already been removed and the plant shut down some time before. The cooling tower is a necessary component if Kim wanted to restart the facility, but it wouldn’t take very long to rebuild it — although the effort would be immediately obvious from satellite surveillance.
Still, it shows that the momentum has swung towards a favorable resolution to the crisis. The Kim regime needs that more than we do, with his nation starving and energy supplies non-existent. The Bush administration has used a shrewd mix of regional pressure and the enticement of direct relations to get what looks like a much greater degree of verification from Pyongyang than the aborted Agreed Framework that left Kim free to pursue both uranium- and plutonium-based weapons programs. The dust cloud over Yongbyon means that we’re less likely to see a mushroom cloud over Seoul or Tokyo.