Seoul warned on Monday that it might shoot down parts of a North Korean rocket that violate South Korean territory, as worries about what Washington calls a long-range missile test overshadowed an international nuclear security summit.
Nearly 60 world leaders gathered on Monday in Seoul to talk about ways to keep nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists.
But North Korea has dominated attention in Northeast Asia since announcing earlier this month that it would send a satellite into space aboard a long-range rocket.
North Korea calls the launch part of its peaceful space programme and says a new southerly flight path is meant to avoid other countries; previous rockets have been fired over Japan. Washington and Seoul, however, say the multistage rocket is meant to test delivery systems for long-range missiles that could be mounted with nuclear weapons.
“We are studying measures such as tracking and shooting down (parts) of a North Korean missile in case they stray out of their normal trajectory” and violate South Korean territory, said Yoon Won-shik, a vice spokesman at the defence ministry.
The South Korean and US militaries know that North Korea has moved the main body of the rocket into a building at a site near the village of Tongchang-ri in North Phyongan province and that it is making preparations for a launch, Yoon said.
The Tongchang-ri launch site is about 50km from the Chinese border city of Dandong. Analysts describe it as a new, more sophisticated site that would allow the North to fire the rocket from the west coast to avoid sending it over other countries.
Ukraine surrenders enriched uranium
A consignment of enriched uranium — enough to make a nuclear weapon, according to a US expert — rumbled out of a Ukrainian railway depot late on Saturday bound for Russia, a move designed to coincide with an international summit on nuclear security.
The 19kg (42 pounds) of spent highly enriched uranium, loaded in four containers onto rail carriers in a high-security operation, was the last such material to be removed from the ex-Soviet republic under a two-year programme with the United States and Russia.
Altogether, some 200kg of weapons-grade material have been removed from Ukraine and sent back to Russia — the originating country — since May 2010. The material will be delivered to the Mayak reprocessing nuclear facility in Russia’s Ural mountains — a rail journey of about five days from Kiev.
Japan down to one nuclear reactor
Japan was on Monday left with only one nuclear reactor after Tokyo Electric Power Co shuttered its final generator for safety checks. Only one of Japan’s 54 units — in Hokkaido — is still working, and that is scheduled to be shut down in May.