Hour Two: N. Korea Destroys Nuclear Tower

North Korea has blown up the cooling tower at its main nuclear reactor site, according to news reports. The demolition comes a day after President Bush said the country would be taken off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

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Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, we're going to the Moon! I'm Rachel Martin.

MIKE PESCA, host:

And I'm Mike Pesca. It's Friday, June 27th 2008. Well, this could either be - given that those words, this could either be a chat about space exploration or "The Honeymooners," and I'm up for either one.

MARTIN: I know. Both would be really interesting.

PESCA: Wasn't "The Honeymooners" great? How they used to - like, the running gag was, I'm going to abuse my wife.

MARTIN: Yeah, actually, in retrospect, not so funny, is it?

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: To the Moon!

PESCA: But people still laugh. I mean, that's, like, probably the oldest show that they play on TV, and Ed Norton keeps getting a laugh.

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PESCA: I just think it's sad when the - at some point, the current actor Ed Norton is not going to elicit in the minds of movie goers, you know, funny...

MARTIN: Any funny similar to that.

PESCA: Funny - yeah, old Ed Norton, as he addressed the ball. Hello, ball! Anyway, we're not talking about "The Honeymooners."

MARTIN: We're not going to talk about "The Honeymooners."

PESCA: The Moon Moon.

MARTIN: We're going to go with option one and talk about NASA, the Moon Moon. We've been there. That's not news. We might go again. Apparently, that is. NASA wants to take us back to the Moon.

PESCA: I think it's news. I think if we went period that would be news. People would cover that.

MARTIN: Yeah. Well, there are a lot of people who say we should be refocusing our energies towards going where we haven't been before, i.e., Mars. So we're going to talk about this new technology that NASA has released. They released a redesign of this rocket that's going to them to the Moon, and we are going to have a conversation about it on this very radio program.

PESCA: I also hope they perfect the technology allowing us to carry moonbeams home in a jar.

MARTIN: Ooh, that'd be awesome.

PESCA: That would be cool. Maybe we're just better off where we are. Anyway, it turns out that there are very few black, male librarians walking the stacks. Haven't thought about that before, have you? But we will today. We will talk to Julius Jefferson from the Library of Congress. He's presenting papers on the subject at a big library conference this weekend. I hear things get pretty crazy at the big library conferences. They, you know, drink a little too much and restack the books where they're not supposed to be!

MARTIN: Uh-oh! Speaking of crazy, we'll hear what happened at the NBA Draft last night from Peter Schrager of Fox Sports. I've been waiting all atwitter with anticipation to find out who they picked.

PESCA: Yeah, who'd you have in the pool?

MARTIN: Um, Kurt Rambis, is he still around?

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PESCA: She loves Kurt Rambis.

MARTIN: I love me the Kurt Rambis.

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MARTIN: We're going to talk with Peter Schrager. He was there for all the real action.

PESCA: Yeah, I thought you said that you thought the tall guy would go first or second.

MARTIN: Yeah, something like that.

PESCA: Yeah, maybe the tall one.

MARTIN: Yeah. We'll get the day's news headlines in just a minute, but first...

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MARTIN: In an explosion meant to be heard around the world, North Korea has blown up the cooling tower at its main nuclear reactor site.

PESCA: It happened at four a.m. eastern time, about four in the afternoon their time. Journalists and diplomats watched as the explosion caused the tower to collapse into a cloud of smoke.

MARTIN: Sung Kim, the U.S. State Department's top expert on the Koreas, attended the demolition. He said of the event, quote, "This is a very important first step in the disablement process and I think it puts us into a good position to move into the next phase."

PESCA: The destruction of the tower was more symbol than substance. It's not the most important piece of equipment at the nuclear site in Yongbyon, but it makes the biggest boom and looks the coolest as it crumbles.

MARTIN: Charles Pritchard, who worked on North Korean issues in the Bush and Clinton administrations, tells NPR that North Korean nuclear facilities were already disabled as a result of earlier talks. He described the public demolition like this.

(Soundbite of NPR's All Things Considered, June 26, 2008)

Ambassador CHARLES L. PRITCHARD (Special Envoy to North Korea, George W. Bush Administration): A visible sign from North Koreans designed primarily for an American audience that says, we are committed to this process, look favorably upon us.

PESCA: The demolition comes a day after North Korea delivered a declaration of the extent of its nuclear programs to China, the leading member of the international group that was negotiating with North Korea over its nuclear program.

MARTIN: Now, those nations, including the U.S., will try to verify the information, which reportedly includes how much plutonium Yongbyon facility produced, but doesn't say how many weapons North Korea may have, or whether they sent them to anyone else, like, oh, say, Syria. Experts believe North Korea has enough radioactive material to build six to ten bombs.

PESCA: So, we know what North Korea gives up, but what does it get? How about getting its name off the Axis of Evil list? President Bush yesterday said he'd ordered the State Department to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism within 45 days.

MARTIN: And the president also promised to lift trade sanctions against North Korea, but he warned the changes will only last if North Korea keeps its end of the bargain.

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President GEORGE W BUSH: The next 45 days will be an important period for North Korea, to show its seriousness of its cooperation. We will work through the six-party talks to develop a comprehensive and rigorous verification protocol, and during this period, the United States will carefully observe North Korea's actions and act accordingly.

PESCA: You can go to npr.org throughout the day for updates on this story. Now let's get some more of today's headlines with a fellow on our Axis of Awesome, the BPP's Mark Garrison.

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