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Could North Korea still make nukes?

Destruction of its nuclear cooling tower was important but largely symbolic.

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North Korea's destruction last week of the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear facility was a spectacular piece of geopolitical theater. But as the concrete crumbled, did Pyongyang's ability to produce plutonium really crumble as well?

The tower's fall largely was symbolic, say experts. In addition, North Korea has yet to take some of the most important steps in its planned nuclear disablement.

But North Korean officials have completed perhaps two-thirds of their disablement actions. While they technically could still resume plutonium production, the effort, expense, and time involved might make such a move prohibitively difficult.

"None of the steps North Korea has taken thus far are irreversible, but the destruction of this tower makes it harder to reconstitute their plutonium program," said Jon Wolfsthal of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in an analysis of the issue.

The events of the last week in June clearly constitute a turning point in the long, difficult effort to get North Korea to shut its fissile material production facilities, and perhaps eventually rid itself of its small nuclear weapon stockpile.

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