News / Asia

    Analysts Downplay North Korean Nuclear Threats

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presides over a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang March 31, 2013.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presides over a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang March 31, 2013.
    Analysts say it is too soon to tell how North Korea's decision to resume operations at a shuttered plutonium nuclear reactor and  further uranium enrichment will impact Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

    It would take about six months to get the plutonium reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex running again, estimates Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the London-based IISS's non-proliferation and disarmament program.

    "The danger is that if North Korea could get the small reactor going again, they could resume the plutonium production program that has been the basis of their nuclear weapons program to date," says Fitzpatrick. "But we're not looking at an immediate production of plutonium."

    North Korea agreed to mothball the plutonium reactor and destroy its cooling tower as part a 2007 aid-for-disarmament deal at the now-stalled six-party talks. A spokesperson was quoted Tuesday in state media as saying work on the facility would begin immediately.

    A North Korean nuclear plant is seen before demolishing a cooling tower (R) in Yongbyon, in this photo taken June 27, 2008 and released by Kyodo. North Korea is to restart the mothballed Yongbyon nuclear reactor that has been closed since 2007 in a move tA North Korean nuclear plant is seen before demolishing a cooling tower (R) in Yongbyon, in this photo taken June 27, 2008 and released by Kyodo. North Korea is to restart the mothballed Yongbyon nuclear reactor that has been closed since 2007 in a move t
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    A North Korean nuclear plant is seen before demolishing a cooling tower (R) in Yongbyon, in this photo taken June 27, 2008 and released by Kyodo. North Korea is to restart the mothballed Yongbyon nuclear reactor that has been closed since 2007 in a move t
    A North Korean nuclear plant is seen before demolishing a cooling tower (R) in Yongbyon, in this photo taken June 27, 2008 and released by Kyodo. North Korea is to restart the mothballed Yongbyon nuclear reactor that has been closed since 2007 in a move t
    Once it is up and running, it would take at least a year of restarted operations to generate enough plutonium to make one nuclear bomb, say nuclear scientists. Pyongyang is currently believed to have enough plutonium to make up to eight bombs.

    But it is less clear what to make of North Korea's threat to "restart and readjust" its uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon. Fitzpatrick says the danger is that the facility, which was first unveiled in 2010, could give Pyongyang an easier way to make nuclear weapons.

    "Highly enriched uranium is also easier to conceal from observation. The enrichment can take place in small facilities that don't give off any obvious heat signature or any release of radiation, unlike plutonium, which has to be produced in a reactor that is observable from the sky," says Fitzpatrick.

    But Remco Breuker, professor of Korean studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, says Western nations should not overreact to the news of revamped nuclear activity.

    "There's no immediate danger," says Breuker, who warns that both sides should take care to not let the situation escalate further. "What I am afraid is that there doesn't seem to be an end to these escalations and there's no guarantee that this won't spin out of control at one point or another."

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    April 02, 2013 1:47 PM
    We share the fear Breuker has expressed here. No one knows who will shoot first. If North Korea does, be rest assured it will do so when and where it knows it will do extensive damage to human life, not property. The rest of the world may strike first to destroy the threat, but Pyongyang will strike at people. If this threat is allowed to go for now, it will still resurface sometime later.

    The question is, how long should we live with repeated cycles of threat from the same source? One day it's going to make good its threat, especially controlled by an inexperienced 28year old boy. Not to downplay the danger in it but to deal with it once and for all, otherwise to continue to postpone the evil day. It appears everything and everyone that come from North Korea have advanced paranoia running in the blood, so the threat will never go away until it is either eliminated (dealt with) or they carry it out. At whose expense?
    In Response

    by: Anonymous from: Lewes, Delaware, USA
    April 02, 2013 5:09 PM
    North Korea's attempt with Iran to build a nuclear reactor in Syria and the attempt to ship nuclear material (missiles) to Myanmar dictates an immidiate response to stop this madness. Cut off all food aid to North Korea, end their relationship with shipping reinsurance companies and arrest their diplomatic corp for narcotic's traffic next time they move methamphetimine or heroin in bulk form.

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