PYONGYANG, North Korea (CNN) — North Korea on Friday destroyed a water cooling tower at a facility where officials acknowledge they extracted plutonium to build nuclear weapons, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour reported from the scene.The cooling tower was demolished at the Yongbyon nuclear complex near Pyongyang, North Korea.
The massive implosion, which came at about 5pm local time Friday at the Yongbyon facility, was intended to be a powerful public symbol of a move to end nuclear activities by the Communist nation once branded a member of an “axis of evil” by U.S. President George W. Bush.
The destruction of the highly visible symbol of North Korea’s long-secret nuclear program came just a day after the country released details of its program.
“They fired a warning flare and then in three minutes the whole thing came tumbling down in a massive cloud of smoke,” Amanpour said.
“There was a moment of stunned silence as the magnitude of what had happened sunk in,” Amanpour said.
U.S. State Department officials and observers from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) watched from a reviewing stand on a ridge about 1,000 yards away, she said.
“This is a very significant disablement step,” the U.S. envoy to North Korea, Sung Kim, said.
Nuclear experts say that the plant’s destroyed central water-cooling tower would take a year or longer to rebuild if North Korea were to try using the plant again.
“This is a critical piece of equipment for the nuclear reactor,” said analyst John Wolfsthal, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has been following North Korea since the 1980s. “Without this facility, the reactor can’t operate and can’t produce more plutonium for weapons.” See some great related video and watch the tower being demolished.