North Korea Potentially Enriching Uranium Outside of Yongbyon In the last week, North Korea has managed to drive an entire ballistic missile through loopholes in the recent U.S. and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) agreement of delivering food aide in exchange for North Korean concessions in nuclear and missile research. Now comes word that there’s a high possibility that Pyongyang is finding similar loopholes with their agreement to suspend Uranium enrichment at their Yongbyon nuclear facility. The Wall Street Journal reports that the DPRK is likely enriching uranium outside of their Yongbyon facility:

The American scientist to whom North Korea decided in 2010 to reveal its uranium enrichment program, Siegfried Hecker, says he’s become more persuaded since that time that he didn’t see all of it. Mr. Hecker, the former director of the Los Alamos Laboratory who is now a professor at Stanford University, is in South Korea this week for a series of conferences leading up to next week’s Nuclear Security Summit. During a panel on the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs at the Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference in Busan on Tuesday, he described the research he’s done on North Korea since his last visit there in November 2010. He made worldwide headlines after the visit by revealing that North Korea had converted one of its buildings at the Yongbyon nuclear power plant into a facility to enrich uranium, which can then be used to fuel a nuclear plant or to make an atomic bomb. When he returned home, he began to study satellite images of Yongbyon in order to determine how quickly the North Koreans converted Building #4, the one where they installed approximately 2,000 centrifuges for the enrichment process. He also went back through the public announcements North Korea made through its state media about the uranium program. “They made their announcement that they had been successful in experimental procedure of enrichment in September of 2009,” he said. “In September 2009, from the overhead imagery, Building #4 doesn’t have the blue [new] roof on it yet. It had not been reconfigured.” He added, “If they had been successful in September 2009, they had to have done it someplace else.” Indeed, during his visit in 2010, North Korean scientists told him that the centrifuge operation at Yongbyon had only recently started. But it was too big and advanced to have been the only place North Korean scientists were working on uranium processes, Mr. Hecker told the conference attendees in Busan. He said so just after coming out of North Korea in 2010. But the subsequent piecing together of statements and satellite images reinforced the idea. “The main change in my analysis is just that it became much clearer that they have done this someplace else,” he said. “We don’t know how big an operation, but it must have been big enough that they had some confidence they could build a similar, but larger, capability at Yongbyon.” The likelihood that North Korea is working on uranium enrichment in facilities beyond Yongbyon is significant at the moment because the deal (or undertaking or understanding or arrangement) with the U.S. on Feb. 29 to allow inspections on uranium spoke only of the operation Mr. Hecker was shown at Yongbyon. He said that while he welcomed the Feb. 29 deal because it took a step in the direction of making sure the problems posed by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons don’t get worse. But there were several problems in the deal that were visible by differences in the way the U.S. and North Korea described it. One problem was that it wasn’t clear precisely what access inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency would get. On top of that, though, was that it didn’t included North Korea’s undeclared uranium enrichment facilities – the ones Mr. Hecker hasn’t seen but knows are there, in other words. Mr. Hecker said he could initially accept that limitation because he felt U.S. officials would continue to push for more information on the undeclared facilities and because the international inspectors who got to visit Yongbyon might be able to learn more about the uranium program. But then came last Friday’s announcement by Pyongyang that it plans to launch a rocket in mid-April. “That really makes a mockery of the agreement,” he said. (Source: WSJ)

U.S. negotiators must have felt an immense sense of accomplishment after concluding their talks with North Korea and bringing the dialogue back towards a perceived openness not seen since the Clinton-era. They probably should have consulted a few more scientists and lawyers.

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Craig was born & raised in the United States, having recently returned there after over five years in Asia. He is currently pursuing further education in the realms of East Asian Studies and Politics. Craig is an avid fan of the political, economic, and military machinations occurring throughout the Asian continent and how those turning gears affect the rest of the world. He's currently covering both North and South Korea for Asia Security Watch, enjoying shedding light on to this far-too-often ignored slice of Asia.
Craig Scanlan has 82 post(s) on Asia Security Watch