Report says uranium traces found on North Korean tubes
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. scientists found traces of enriched uranium on smelted aluminum tubing from North Korea, which appears to contradict its denials of a secret uranium-based nuclear program, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
U.S. officials were concerned that disclosing the finding of the uranium traces on tubing samples provided by North Korea would further complicate diplomacy with the secretive country, the Post said, citing U.S. and diplomatic sources.
While acknowledging its plutonium-based weapons program, North Korea has persistently denied U.S. allegations that it had engaged in inappropriate uranium-based activities.
Washington is trying to get North Korea to disclose details of all its nuclear programs, and Pyongyang has promised to make a declaration by December 31 as part of a wider deal to abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons in exchange for economic and diplomatic benefits from the United States and others.
U.S. negotiators will be forced to demand a detailed explanation about use of the tubes from Pyongyang, which has maintained it acquired thousands of them for conventional uses, the Post said, citing unnamed sources.
Washington has said the tubes were evidence that North Korea had a clandestine uranium weapons program because they could be used as outer casings for centrifuges needed to process uranium gas into weapons fuel.
The State Department and a spokesman for the director of national intelligence declined to comment on the uranium finding, the Post said.
While the tubes could have picked up uranium traces from an active enrichment program, the traces also could have come from exposure to other equipment or people exposed to both sets of equipment, the Post said, citing a former U.N. weapons inspector.
For example, the Post said, Pakistan has acknowledged providing North Korea with a sample centrifuge kit so the tubes could have picked up enriched uranium from Pakistani equipment.
(Written by World Desk, Americas; Editing by Roger Crabb)