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

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies 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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid