Photo/IllutrationThe construction site for a light-water reactor at the Kumho district of North Korea’s North Hamgyong province in an image taken in August 2002. (AP Photo)

SEOUL--North Korean authorities have ordered the inspection of two nuclear reactors abandoned before completion more than a decade ago, apparently to study if they can produce electricity to help jump-start the country’s stagnant economy.

Sources familiar with North Korean affairs also say the effort is intended to show the United States its will to denuclearize by using the reactors for peaceful purposes.

But experts are skeptical about the wisdom of allowing Pyongyang to use light-water reactors, given that they could lead to the production of weapons-grade nuclear material.

Under the 1994 nuclear framework agreed upon with Pyongyang, Washington promised to construct two light-water reactors with a total output of 2 gigawatts in North Korea in exchange for a freeze and ultimate dismantling of its nuclear weapons program.

The reactors that North Korea ordered the inspection of recently are the ones agreed upon in the deal. They are located in the Kumho district of Sinpo in North Hamgyong province.

The construction of the reactors was suspended after about 30 percent of the work was completed due to the rise of new suspicions of Pyongyang’s nuclear program. The project was scrapped in 2006.

North Korean officials were instructed to inspect the unfinished reactors and report to authorities in detail if their construction can be resumed and what materials would be needed, according to the sources.

An idea has been floated that the technology used for an experimental light-water reactor under construction in Yongbyon in North Pyongan province, the country’s key site for the development of its nuclear program, can be utilized.

North Korea has signaled during behind-the-scenes preparatory meetings with Washington that it will agree to a complete dismantling of its nuclear arms program at the planned summit with the United States. The historic summit between the leaders of the two nations is expected by early June.

On April 20, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to “focus all the country’s resources on the building of the socialist economy” in an address for the general meeting of the Central Committee of Workers’ Party of Korea.

The check of the abandoned light-water reactors is apparently part of the country’s efforts to eliminate power shortages by using nuclear power and bolstering the economy.

According to sources well-versed in U.S.-North Korea relations, North Korean officials recently met with U.S. nuclear experts for an informal meeting and relayed their intention to use nuclear power for civilian purposes.

Emphasizing the use of nuclear power for peaceful uses appears aimed at wooing U.S. economic assistance in negotiations.

But some experts in the international community remain opposed to building light-water reactors for Pyongyang.

Light-water reactors face more technological difficulties in producing weapons-grade nuclear material, compared with graphite-moderated reactors.

Still, their operation could lead to the production of weapons-grade nuclear material.

Once the construction of the light-water reactors resumes, it could complicate talks between Pyongyang and Washington, according to the sources.

Ahead of the summit with the United States, Pyongyang has indicated that it will accept full inspections of its existing nuclear facilities.

But if no progress were made in undertaking the inspections, the international community would not accept North Korea’s use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes, according to the sources.