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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Uranium Program

The North’s uranium enrichment program was confirmed when the North surprisingly revealed its centrifuges to a team of experts led by Sig Hecker in November 2010. The 2,000 centrifuges can produce 40kg of highly enriched uranium each year, which is enough to produce two nuclear weapons. In 2013, North Korea doubled the size of its centrifuge facility. There is also speculation that North Korea is running additional centrifuges in a secret location. It is for such reasons that the ROK Defense Ministry did not offer a concrete estimate of how much highly enriched uranium North Korea possesses.

Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea in mid-November 2010, said he was shown a large new facility for enriching uranium, with hundreds of centrifuges. The American nuclear expert said he was stunned by the sophistication of the facility. Former US diplomat Jack Pritchard, who visited the Yongbyon site recently, said North Korean officials told him they were building an experimental light water nuclear reactor. Light water reactors are typically used only for generating electricity, but construction of the plant could give North Korea a pretext to enrich uranium, which can be used to fuel a reactor, or make nuclear weapons. These latest developments confirmed the existence of a uranaium progrem, which had been shrouded in controversy for neary a decade.

In an announcement that shocked the world, Washington said on 16 October 2002 that North Korea had admitted to secretly developing nuclear weapons, in violation of a 1994 agreement with the US. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly told the North that they must immediately and visibly dismantle this covert nuclear weapons program. After initial denials, North Korean officials acknowledged that they had such a program. Washington had offered the North Koreans no deal in return for a dismantling of the program. Kelly said North Korean officials told him they now considered that the 1994 Agreed Framework was nullified. The US stated that Pyongyang had to first show good faith by abandoning all nuclear weaponization before any consideration of potential US action.

With the uranium program, North Korea was in violation of Article IV-1 of the Agreed Framework, and its actions clearly ran counter to the spirit of the agreement, though not explicitly against it in any other regard. Pyongyang countered by saying the US had not normalized relations and the Light Water Reactor promised under the agreement had gone through numerous delays and would not be remotely close to completion by the initial 2003 date. The North Koreans stated that the failure of the international consortium to meet deadlines in building the 2 promised light-water reactors and the US treatment of North Korea nullified the agreement.

Secretary of State Colin Powel stated that the accord was nullified by North Korea's admission of violating the 1994 accord. Powell added that the US was not anxious to take immediate action. US officials cited the DPRK's admission of continuing nuclear weapons programs as the cause of the accord's demise.

US officials in both the White House and the Department of State were initially cautious when discussing the status of the Agreed Framework. The US was fearful that Department of Energy monitoring of North Korea's plutonium production could be halted and Pyongyang would be free to reestablish a plutonium based weapons program.

Japan and South Korea were reluctant to officially end the Agreed Framework. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stated that continued engagement with North Korea was the best hope for disarmament. South Korean officials stated a desire to keep the aid programs running. The South Korean government said it would try to dissuade North Korea from building nuclear weapons during coming ministerial talks. However, mounting public anger over Pyongyang's weapons program was seen as potentially making it difficult for Seoul to continue its policy of engaging the North. There was a real fear that ending the program could exacerbate instability in North Korea and worsen the crisis.

On 13 November 2002 President Bush decided to halt future shipments of heavy fuel oil to North Korea, pending verifiable steps to dismantle the newly disclosed uranium enrichment program. North Korea said it was lifting the freeze on facilities frozen under the agreed framework between the United States and North Korea, including a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. Furthermore, North Korea asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to remove its cameras from the Yongbyon facility.

In June 2003 Bolton announced that the United States had, within the previous 2 months, intercepted aluminum tubes likely bound for North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

During the Six-Party Talks in Beijing in August 2003 the North Korean delagate denied that North Korea had a program to produce highly enriched uranium. The denial was later picked up the support of China. During a visit in early January 2004, North Korean officials told an unofficial US delegation that they did not have a nuclear warhead or a program to secretly enrich uranium for such a weapon. DPRK Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Gye Gwan told the delegation that the DPRK had no HEU program. Upon further questioning he stated that the DRPK had chosen the plutonium path to a deterrent. It had no facilities, equipment or scientists dedicated to an HEU program, adding, "We can be very serious when we talk about this. We are fully open to technical talks."

On 8 June 2004, Zhou Wenzhong, China's deputy foreign minister, said in an interview with the New York Times that the US had not persuaded China that North Korea had both uranium and plutonium bomb programs. "We know nothing about the uranium program ... We don't know whether it exists. So far the US has not presented convincing evidence of this program."

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Page last modified: 22-02-2017 16:25:55 ZULU