News / Asia

North Korea Appears Capable of Making Uranium Nuclear Equipment

A military truck carrying a missile parades during a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 27, 2013.
A military truck carrying a missile parades during a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 27, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Daniel Schearf
— A new assessment of North Korea’s nuclear program says Pyongyang appears capable of building sensitive nuclear equipment that could allow it to evade international trade sanctions and easily hide a nuclear weapons program.  South Korea's Defense Ministry has said it will never accept North Korea as a nuclear state. 

U.S.-based researchers analyzed photos and documents from North Korea that they say show tools and skills necessary to make gas centrifuges.
 
Preventing Pyongyang's access to gas centrifuges is a key aim of United Nations sanctions as they can be used to make highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.  
 
Non-proliferation expert Joshua Pollack, one of the authors of the study, said if North Korea can make its own centrifuges, as evidence suggests, trade restrictions will have little effect.
 
"If they're making the really scarce parts, the parts that are hard to substitute for, hard to make, and hard to find, if they're making those then really the current approach of export controls and sanctions and interdiction will not help," Pollack said.  "At least, it will not help as a means of denying them the technology.  It seems to be too late for that.  On the other hand, it may have other benefits including stopping them from exporting it."
 
North Korea has already produced plutonium-based nuclear bombs and tested them three times, the latest in February.  The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security released a report in August showing North Korea doubled the size of its uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon.
 
Satellite imagery of the Yongbyon Fuel Fabrication plant from July 28, 2013 showing the expansion of the gas centrifuge plant building.Satellite imagery of the Yongbyon Fuel Fabrication plant from July 28, 2013 showing the expansion of the gas centrifuge plant building.
x
Satellite imagery of the Yongbyon Fuel Fabrication plant from July 28, 2013 showing the expansion of the gas centrifuge plant building.
Satellite imagery of the Yongbyon Fuel Fabrication plant from July 28, 2013 showing the expansion of the gas centrifuge plant building.
Analysis of satellite images earlier this month by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins also indicated the plutonium facilities had restarted.
 
This week it issued further analysis on images believed to show North Korea engaged in engine testing for a long-range missile.
 
Unlike plutonium, uranium does not give off a high heat signature, making it more difficult to track.  
 
Pollack said it would be a serious complication for efforts to denuclearize the North.
 
"If we were ever to reach a denuclearization agreement with the North Koreans, it's not clear how we'll verify it.  If they're able to produce centrifuges and they're able to put them, essentially anywhere, with little assurance that we'll be able to find it, how can we be confident that they're holding to their end of the bargain?"
 
South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday declined to comment on Pyongyang's production of nuclear equipment.
 
Cho Tai-young, a ministry spokesman, said they cannot confirm issues related to intelligence.  In addition, he said, they are aware that there are various opinions on North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and technologies.
 
Pyongyang claims the uranium program is only for peaceful energy purposes.  Although centrifuges could be used to make low-enriched uranium for electricity production, on the nuclear issue, analysts note North Korea has not earned the world's trust.
 
This Spring it issued almost daily threats of attacks on South Korea and the United States, including nuclear war.
 
And although Pyongyang says it wants to negotiate an end to its nuclear programs, at the same time it has been seeking recognition as a nuclear state.  
 
South Korea's Defense Ministry spokesman, Kim Min-seok said the government does not recognize North Korea as a nuclear state because the international community does not.

Kim said this is the most important position of the Seoul government.  He added that it supports the belief that North Korea’s nuclear threats are being realized because the possibility is high that North Korea can weaponize nuclear power and actually use it.  However, from a technological perspective, he says, there is no evidence to prove North Korea used nuclear weapons or is able to mount nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles.
 
The North's nuclear pursuits have led to tighter U.N. sanctions that are supported by its traditional ally, China.
 
China's Commerce Ministry on Monday published a long list of technology and materials banned for export to North Korea because of potential dual-use as weapons or for nuclear development.
 
Meanwhile, also on Tuesday South Korea turned down a $7.7 billion bid by aircraft maker Boeing for F-15 fighter jets.  
 
Defense Ministry spokesman Kim cited the nuclear threat from North Korea, saying the jets were not advanced enough.
 

Youmi Kim in VOA's Seoul bureau contributed to this report

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid