First concrete has been poured at the site of the planned two-unit nuclear power plant in North Korea – amid US calls for the country to make the “same kind of progress” in meeting its non-proliferation commitments. The project is well behind schedule because N Korea has been slow to fulfil its side of the arrangement.

The ceremony at the site in Kumho, on North Korea’s north-east coast, marks the latest milestone for the Korean peninsula energy development organisation, (KEDO), an international organisation using western funding and South Korean technology to build the generating plant. KEDO plans to deliver the main components of the station in 2005. However it will then halt construction unless North Korea has complied with IAEA and other UN requirements. However, the Korean Information Service (KOIS), operated by the government of neighbouring South Korea, quoted a senior US official as saying that it would be “impossible” to complete the construction of safe nuclear reactors without North Korea’s commitment to its agreement to freeze nuclear weapons development. Plans to build two light water reactor units at the site are about six years behind schedule.

KEDO will not install the maincomponents until cessation of North Korea’s former nuclear activities has been verified. US envoy Jack Pritchard said the IAEA believes that with North Korea’s full co-operation it could still take at least three to four years to “verify the completeness and correctness of their nuclear declarations”.