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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


North Korea has several nuclear facilities that, collectively, have the potential to produce Plutonium for nuclear weapons. The major installations include a 200-MW(e) reactor under construction at Taechon. North Korea has developed graphite-moderated, gas-cooled reactors based on the British Calder Hall reactors.

Ostensibly built as a power reactors, this graphite-moderated and gas cooled reactor uses a design that is relatively unsafe and their efficiency relatively low when compared to more modern technologies long used in the West. However, reactors of this design produce extremely large quantities of plutonium, the key ingredient in nuclear weapons, as a by-product of their activities even with natural, low-quality uranium. Thus, the reactor building program of the DPRK testified to Pyongyang's commitment to markedly expand its nuclear weapons program.

This 200-megawatt (electric) reactor would have produced as much as 220 kilograms of weapons grade plutonium each year. This could have enabled North Korea to build as many as additional 25-40 nuclear weapons per year.

Under the terms of the 21 October 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea was to be provided with alternative energy in the form of heavy oil for heating and electricity production. These heavy oil supplies were nominally to compensate for the loss of electricity production by the 5-MW generator at the Yongbyon nuclear complex and for abandoning construction of the 50-MW nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and the 200-MW nuclear reactor at Taechon. Under the terms of the Agreed Framework, all of these facilities eventually were to be dismantled.

A the time of the signing of the Agreed Framework in 1994, North Korea's 200-MW(e) reactor was expected to be completed in 1996. Because of this schedule, much of the reactor's equipment and components, including the reactor's graphite blocks and fuel-handling machines, should have been available for inclusion in the reactor's building. Instead, North Korea informed IAEA that it had manufactured none of the graphite blocks needed for this facility. According to IAEA, North Korea explained that there was no reason for it to continue manufacturing equipment and components for the reactor after July 1993, since it had begun discussions with the United States about replacing the graphite-moderated reactors with light-water reactors. However, North Korea's explanation was insufficient for IAEA to rule out whether any additional nuclear equipment and components exist.

IAEA monitors activities at this unfinished reactor. As with the other nuclear facilities under the freeze, IAEA established an initial photographic baseline to document the status the facility's construction. Since then, IAEA inspectors have visited the 200-MW(e) graphite-moderated nuclear reactor in Taechon a few times a year. During their visits, the inspectors observe the facilities, take updated pictures, and compare the photos to ensure that construction has not resumed at the facilities.

In late 1998, South Korean news reports claimed that there are nuclear facilities under the artificial island in the T'aech'on reservoir. On 23 October 1998, opposition lawmaker Rep. Kim Deog-ryong of the opposition Grand National Party [GNP] claimed that "Large-scale projects to build nuclear facilities are under way in Kumchang and Taechon, north of Yongbyon." The North, he said, is producing plutonium in an underground facility on an island in a man-made lake located behind three installations in Taechon.

New satellite imagery from Digital Globe, confirmed that the North Koreans had not resumed work on the T'aech'on facility as of 3 September 2002. In late December 2002 North Korea announced that it would resume operations of the 5MWe reactor at Yongbyon, and restart construction on the two larger plutonium-production reactors.

Stanford professor John Lewis, an expert on Northeast Asian security issues, made his 11th visit to North Korea in late May 2005. At that time the North Koreans told him that they had restarted construction of the 50 MWe and 200 MWe reactors that had been frozen under the 1994 Agreed Framework. As < a href="">reported on 06 June 2005 by Knight Ridder, the North told Lewis they planned on finishing the reactors within two years. On 15 June 2005 Kyodo News reported that North Korea had informed a visiting American scholar in late May 2005 that it had resumed the construction of the two nuclear reactors that was halted under the 1994 Agreed Framework. According to this report, US Government sources stated on background that this information had already been communicated to the US government. The two reactors could produce about 275 kilograms of plutonium annually, enough for about 50 atomic bombs.

On 30 June 2005 Japan's Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported an American source claimed that North Korea had resumed construction work on the 50MWe reactor at Yongbyon and the 200 MWe reactor at Taechon. Work on these facilities had been halted under the 1994 Agreed Framework with the US. The report claimed that the North had recently informed the US government that it had resumed construction of the reactors. The activities were said to be on a scale easily detected by satellite.

The sources said above-ground work had begun on a 50 MWe reactor in Yongbyon, while the ground was being leveled for a 200 MWe reactor in Taechon. This account is puzzling, since considerable construction had already been completed at Taechon, and this may suggest that these decade old structures, which were never enclosed or roofed over, were being abandoned in favor of all new construction.

According to reports, a South Korean source claimed that there was no information indicating the North had resumed construction. In a news briefing, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda [also rendered Hirouki Hosoda], stated that he could not confirm the resumption of reactor construction, though he acknowledged that North Korea had previously indicated plans to restart the project.

If renewed activity was confirmed, it was regarded by South Korean, Japanese and American observers as a provocation to gain leverage in the process of resuming the six-party talks. The move would not immediately increase North Korea's nuclear capacity, since several years would be required to complete the reactors.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:39:19 ZULU