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.
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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs