More on North Korea HEU

Larry Niksch (_right_) from CRS recently published an “interesting summary”: of the relevant intel in the _Chosun Ilbo_.

Niksch mentions a pair of 1993 Russian intel reports that point toward a North Korean HEU program:

bq. There are also assessments from non-U.S. sources simultaneous with or earlier than those of the Clinton Administration. Of special importance are the Russian intelligence assessments of the 1993. Reports in two Japanese journals and the Russian newspaper, Izvestia, quoted from two Russian intelligence documents, an October 1993 Defense Ministry report entitled “The Russian Federation’s Military Policy in the Asia and Pacific Region Under the New Military-Political Conditions” and a 1993 report of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service on “Weapons of Mass Destruction in the World.” Both Russian assessments asserted that North Korea had an active uranium enrichment program.

I am curious as to whether anyone has a copy of the Russian reports . I haven’t been able to find them, but maybe someone with sweeter skills can.

Niksch also correctly points out that South Korean intel sources have been cited in the ROK press for a while now on this issue. Those have never quite been solid enough for _ACT_ to publish, but Seoul clearly seems to think that North Korea has some sort of HEU effort.

There is, however, still no good evidence that the program is, or was, as advanced as North Korea’s plutonium progam.

*As an aside*, when I was doing the reporting for the article I wrote last month about this subject, I couldn’t find anyone who would really defend the intelligence. Now, there are obviously people I missed who likely would defend it, but it’s interesting that no one else reporting on the matter is having much better luck.

_Update_: The sweet skills are on display in the comments section.

3 thoughts on “More on North Korea HEU

  1. Pavel Podvig

    Here is the 1993 SVR report (sorry, it is in Russian).

    The North Korea section does mention “uranium mines at Pakchon and Pyongsan”; and “two uranium enrichment plants”, but that’s about it. No details are provided.

    In the 1995 report, SVR discusses North Korea’s choice of gas-graphite reactor and mentions that one of the reasons that choice was made was the lack of experience with heavy water production and the lack of uranium enrichment capability. But two paragraphs later it says that the fuel cycle for the reactor includes uranium enrichment. This makes me somewhat suspicious of the SVR claims — people who wrote the reports don’t seem to fully understand what they are talking about.

  2. Steven Aftergood

    We have a 1995 (not 1993) FSB report on The Nuclear Potential of Individual Countries:

    But if I read it correctly, it is not consistent with Niksch’s account of the 1993 FSB report. It does not confirm that the DPRK has an active uranium enrichment program, but rather cites “the lack of capacities and the appropriate scientific and practical experience in … enriching uranium for light water reactors.” (Sorry about the broken internal links, which I will try to fix next week.)

    Here is another curious item from Chosun Ilbo yesterday concerning Niksch and DPRK weapons programs.

  3. Charles Tustison

    “Probably one of the more intriguing questions concerning uranium enrichment within the DPRK is that of a possible electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS) effort.
    Calutrons use a great amount of electricity, are expensive and
    require constant maintenance. They are, however, relatively simple to produce and the technology was declassified decades ago. Iraq used calutrons in its nuclear programme. In reviewing a timeline of nuclear developments within the
    DPRK a conspicuous gap exists in the construction of nuclear-related facilities and the establishment of nuclear related
    organisations during the 1970s and early-1980s. This same period coincides with a high-point in DPRK economic and industrial capability to pursue an indigenous EMIS programme. Both the political climate on the Korean peninsula and the status of the known nuclear programme at the time would suggest that it would be an opportune time to initiate such a programme. If it has pursued an EMIS programme, even a rudimentary one, then the estimates of the DPRK’s current inventory of fissile material and inventory of nuclear weapons could be off by an order of magnitude.”

    North Korean Special 2003 Janes Sentinal

    I would add that the proliferation path has, I think in every instance, started with HEU then moved to Plutonium. I would also add that north Korea’s alleged theft of Soviet Plans for possibly Soviet low speed centrifuge enrichment technology in the 60s, all the electricity they claim to lose in underground electrical wires running to secret locations, Soviet concern over their complete fuel cycle in the early 80s, and finally their their subsequent production of the longest ranged artillery piece in the world indications that they could have an HEU program? When Kim Il Sung asked an advisor, during his initial meeting with Carter, was the answer what they would need to give up their plutonium program, the answer was the amount of electricity that they were using to produce HEU, not what they needed for economic development?

    North Korea went to a lot of effort during the 80s to electrify huge portions of their railroads as they were working on their large graphite reactor? Could it be that the plutonium program was intended to supplant a hidden HEU program using up lots of electricity? Was the attempt to acquire a high speed centrifuge program another attempt by north Korea to keep producing weapons without plutonium and still allowing them to free up electricity for economic development?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *