22 November 2010

North Korean Nuclear Program Advancing Rapidly, Gearing-Up for Export

Stanford physicist "stunned" by Norks' 2000+ centrifuges

President Barack Obama and senior U.S. diplomats have in recent months privately shared with their Chinese and Russian counterparts growing U.S. concerns that North Korea was taking steps to enrich uranium and that the effort, unless stopped, would have serious national-security implications, according to people familiar with the matter. 

But the revelation on Saturday that Pyongyang had already installed thousands of centrifuges to produce nuclear fuel at its Yongbyon nuclear facility is raising questions inside Washington's nuclear-nonproliferation community about why more wasn't done by a succession of U.S. administrations to block the North's atomic advances. 

U.S. officials and nonproliferation experts are specifically trying to gauge whether North Korea might already have in place additional uranium-enrichment sites that could be used to produce nuclear fuel at levels closer to weapons grade. There is also a renewed focus on the role that third countries, such as Pakistan and Iran, might have played in Pyongyang's proliferation activities, and the possibility that the North could begin exporting centrifuges and nuclear fuel overseas.
North Korea's alleged role in supplying Syria with a nearly completed nuclear reactor is stoking new fears that Pyongyang could emerge as the new engine for global proliferation—a role once played by the Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. 

"It's a travesty and tragedy that we didn't stop this program when we had the opportunity," said David Asher, who helped direct efforts to counter North Korea's proliferation activities in the George W. Bush administration. "My fear is that just as Iran's demands for enriched uranium for a bomb are expanding, North Korea may be in the position to begin supplying." 

On Saturday, a Stanford physicist, Siegfried Hecker, startled Washington and Asia by releasing a report that documented what he said were 2,000 centrifuges that had been installed by North Korea at its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Mr. Hecker said he saw the equipment during a North Korean-led tour of the site on Nov. 12. The North Koreans told the American scientist that the centrifuges were already beginning to enrich uranium to 3.5% purity for use in a light-water reactor that is under construction. 

Mr. Hecker said in the report that he couldn't confirm that uranium gas had already been introduced into the centrifuges, but said he was "stunned" by the advancement and sophistication of the enrichment plant. 

"Instead of seeing a few small cascades of centrifuges, which I believed to exist in North Korea, we saw a modern, clean centrifuge plant of more than a thousand centrifuges all neatly aligned and plumbed," Mr. Hecker wrote in his report... -WSJ
More at the Wall Street Journal

A little background on the new designated heir in the world's only hereditary communist dictatorship -here-

And did you know they actually have bloggers in this time-warp Stalinist hell...? They write in English too, so you have to assume they're keen to have you read their posts for some reason -here-

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