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

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

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