.....Advertisement.....
.....Advertisement.....

Assessing North Korea

-A A +A
By Carol A. Clark

The nuclear scientist who helped thaw relations with Russian nuclear laboratories at the end of the Cold War has been deeply involved in North Korea lately. Wednesday evening, Siegfried Hecker described the reclusive country’s nuclear program history, current situation and future expectations to a full house at Graves Hall in the United Church. During his presentation – titled “How did North Korea Get Nuclear Weapons and Will it Give Them Up?” – Hecker said bringing North Korea back into the fold is a substantial move toward shoring up what many say is a serious threat to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).“It has the raw materials, it has the facilities, and it has the people for things nuclear,” he said. “North Korea has the bomb. They have weapons grade plutonium. We estimate they have 40-50 kilograms – sufficient to make six to eight bombs.”North Korea has conducted one nuclear test with “limited success” and most likely has a few simple bombs, Hecker said, adding they are unlikely to have the confidence to mount them on missiles.Hecker first visited North Korea in January 2004. His assessment is that the country’s uranium enrichment program never amounted to much. The country first got its bomb program going as part of the Soviet version of “Atoms for Peace” in the 1950s and 1960s, he said. In the 1970s, the country decided to go solo and decided to construct three nuclear reactors, claiming the 5-, 50- and 200 megawatt-electric facilities were for “energy.”Around 1985, the Soviets pressured North Korea to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty, and they did, which eventually allowed International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors into the country, Hecker said. The inspectors found inconsistencies in North Korea’s nuclear declarations. This caused a rift and North Korea threatened to quit the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).The rift was resolved with an agreement that froze the plutonium program between 1994 and 2003. But in late 2002, the U.S. accused North Korea of having a covert uranium program, which led North Korea to withdraw from the NPT.“In 2003, the country really went dark,” Hecker said. “Between 2003-2008 they built a few bombs, tested one and accumulated fuel for six to eight bombs.”The United States’ actions triggered the 2003 break out from the NPT, he said. North Korea’s actions built the bombs and “the United States’ inaction contributed to where we are today.”Hecker visited Yongbyon in January 2004, and Pyongyang in August 2005 and again in November 2006. North Korean officials visited him and Stanford colleagues in March 2007 and Hecker returned again to Yongbyon last August.On each trip, officials wanted him to return to the U.S. with the message that North Korean had the bomb. Hecker is visible in a photo he showed the audience in which he is standing above a spent fuel pool.“Of everything that happened between 2003 and 2005, what was so interesting is we asked them all these questions and they answered them all,” Hecker said. “They gave us remarkable access to their nuclear program. They also sent the message that they wanted the U.S. to give them a light water reactor or there would be no deal. In 2006 they said, ‘Tell your government we’ve tested the bomb and it was highly successful,’ so I did. In March 2007, they clearly indicated that they were willing to shut down their nuclear facilities.”Hecker returned to North Korea in August 2007. Officials showed him that they shut down their nuclear program and agreed to disable all nuclear facilities in Yongbyon under the watchful eye of the IAEA and supervision of American specialists, he said. He credits LANL scientists with providing technical expertise to that effort.“With this current state of shut, seal and disable ... it means no more bombs, no better bombs because they can’t test them, and no nuclear exports,” Hecker said, adding that all the effort will have been worth it if that happens.Hecker is co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and Director Emeritus of Los Alamos National Laboratory. During Wednesday’s talk, he spoke to an audience of eminent scientists and arms control experts, many of whom worked under him during his tenure as LANL director from 1986-1997.The talk was sponsored by the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security (LACACIS), which has followed the international effort for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula for a long time.Hecker believes that it will happen but said it will take a long time, and a transformation in the relationship between the United States and North Korea.In the next phase, Hecker would like to see North Korea’s nuclear facilities not only disabled, but completely dismantled. The transfer or export of bomb making materials and knowledge to other countries remains Hecker’s biggest fear.He expressed concern with the idea of some 10,000 workers possessing varying degrees of bomb making knowledge being without jobs when the facilities close down. This tenuous situation is the main focus of Hecker’s next trip to North Korea, which he has scheduled for next month.Hecker spoke of the country’s contrasts. He’s found color instead of the incessant gray of his early trips to Russia. Clothes, umbrellas and flowers brighten the landscape.There’s a thriving agricultural sector but the lack of industrial equipment has allowed heavy flooding to destroy a substantial percentage of crops. Commerce is beginning to erupt. The Tong il Street Market is said to have drawn some 100,000 people a day. Kiosk vendors are popping up all over. Emerging culture in the country is impressive. Hecker described the stage production of “Arirang” as “the most masterful performance of any kind I have ever seen.”Hecker concluded his talk of the tightly controlled country by recounting another positive glimmer he sees on the horizon.In November 2006, he saw a young boy on a subway in Pyongyang. The boy wore a baseball cap backwards on his head. It was stamped with the Nike “swoosh” logo.“My only thought was, where there is swoosh, there is some hope,” Hecker said.