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
x
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."

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

This forum has been closed.
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.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs