South Korea and China are keeping a "close watch" on the progress in North Korea's light-water atomic reactor project that experts say may help expand the North's nuclear weapons capacity, a high-ranking Seoul official said Friday.
Seoul and Beijing shared concerns over the swift progress North Korea has made in building an experimental light-water reactor at its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, when chief nuclear envoys from the two sides held talks in Beijing this week, said the foreign ministry official with direct knowledge of the talks.
Lim Sung-nam, Seoul's top envoy to the six-party talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons program, met with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei and other officials during his two-day visit to Beijing this week to discuss "recent developments in North Korea's nuclear issues," the ministry said earlier.
South Korea is concerned that the North's reactor under construction might be a cover to stockpile enriched uranium, a fissile material used to make bombs, although North Korea claims the project is for producing electricity.
"During the talks in Beijing, the two sides exchanged views that they are keeping a close watch on the North's new light-water atomic reactor," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
"But, both sides don't see any serious situations with regard to the reactor," he said, confirming that the issue was a major topic in talks between Lim and Wu.
Late last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency said North Korea has made "significant" progress in the light-water reactor project. Citing satellite imagery, the U.N. agency said the North has put a dome over the facility.
The official said North Korea also installed "cooling pumps" in the reactor.
Asked whether North Korea could complete building the reactor with its own technology, the official declined to answer.
South Korea and China also see "no immediate sign" of another nuclear test by North Korea, the official said.
Concerns persist that North Korea might carry out a third underground nuclear test after its much-hyped launch of a long-range missile fizzled in April. Media outlets have reported the North appears to have completed preparations for such a nuclear test.
North Korea's previous launches of long-range missiles in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests. The international community has warned that the North, already under U.N. sanctions for the nuclear tests, will face tougher sanctions if it goes ahead with another test.
The six-party talks, which involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan, have been dormant since late 2008.(Yonhap)