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Where Are North Koreas Nuclear Facilities?

Kim Yong Hun  |  2007-07-02 17:14
[imText1]Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) returned from North Korea on the 30th reporting that an agreement had been made with North Korea to disable and abolish its Yongbyun nuclear reactor and consent to an inspection team entering the country.

The articles of the agreement made with the IAEA will begin process as of next week which insinuates that the initial actions of the February 13 Agreement will also commence shortly.

IAEAs Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen reported that he visited all locations as planned including the Yongbyun 5MW reactor, and that an understanding had been made with North Korea as to monitoring and disabling the Yongbyun nuclear facility.

Director Heinonen expressed his belief that North Korea would abolish its nuclear facilities as the agreement with the six party talks members progressed along. Despite making positive remarks regarding the visit to North Korea, he did not make any comments regarding the specifications of the agreement.

Prior to his visit to North Korea, Director Heinonen revealed that he would discuss 5 matters regarding the disablement of North Koreas nuclear facilities including the 5MW reactor currently in operation at Yongbyun, as well as the radiochemistry test laboratory facilitating the fuel processing, the manufacture of fuel processing, the construction of Yongbyun facility that had been suspended and the Taechun nuclear reactor.

A government official remarked that there should not be any major problems with the agreement made with North Korea as the IAEA had past experience from freezing 5 different nuclear facilities since the Geneva Conference in 1994 and that many discussions with the six party talks had been made.

The facilities that will need to be disabled are the Yongbyun 5MW reactor and radiochemistry test laboratory which facilitates the fuel process. While, the reactor extracts the nuclear fuel, the laboratory abstracts plutonium. By suspending these two operations, the production of nuclear weapons can be blocked.

U.S. Assistant Secretary Hill has also advocated for the disablement of these two facilities. At the time of the 1994 Geneva Agreement, the U.S. and North Korea made a memorandum of understanding which stated that the nuclear processing plant, the Yongbyun 50MW reactor, the Taechun 200MW reactor and 2 other facilities would be frozen.

The Yongbyun 5MW reactor first began operations in 1986 but was frozen according to the 1994 Geneva Agreement. However, North Korea resumed operations in February 2003. Further, North Korea was known to have terminated operations in 2005 in order to secure 8000 nuclear fuel rods. Nonetheless, from June 2005, it seems that additional fuel rods were implemented and since then, operations have continued.

In addition, the Yongbyun 50MW reactor and the nuclear fuel rods manufacturing facilities are also subject of disablement. Construction on the 50MW reactor began in 1985, however was terminated in 1994. In May 2005, North Korea revealed that it would resume construction.

The nuclear fuel manufacturing facility suspended operations in 1994 but resumed in 2003. In addition, the Taechun 200MW reactor began operations in 1989 but construction was suspended in 1994. Again, in May 2005, North Korea revealed that it would resume construction.

Once the IAEA confirms the list of nuclear facilities to abolish, it seems that 800 different location sites will be subject to disablement across the 5 main facilities including the Yongbyun reactor and 20 security cameras installed.

The IAEA informed that a special council would gather in early July with plans to monitor North Koreas nuclear facilities on the basis of the agreement and to dispatch inspection team. Once the inspection team has been formed, it is possible that they will enter North Korea between July 10th and 12th. The inspection team will visit North Korea with the approval of the IAEA council and begin work in disabling facilities including the Yongbyun reactor.

Nonetheless, there are issues still remaining. At the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula working group in March, North Korea revealed that the IAEA could enter the country to confirm disablement after North Korea had abolished the nuclear facilities themselves. In other words, rather than abiding to the disablement regulations of the IAEA, North Korea is asserting that it would use its own monitoring operations.

In January 2003, North Korea autonomously seceded from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Accordingly, North Korea concluded that there was no value in enduring the security measures and negotiations and refused to work with the inspection teams authority.

Since the agreement was made without North Korea rejoining the NPT, members of the six party talks agreed that the Yongbyun 5MW reactor and radiochemistry laboratory would need to be disabled, at the least to prohibit further manufacture of plutonium. Consequently, there is a high possibility that the IAEA will not conduct the disablement themselves but confirm and inspect North Koreas disablement operations instead.

In addition to the 5MW reactor, 8000 nuclear fuel rods are also subject to disablement. Once the IAEA inspection team has visited North Korea and completed the operations in disabling North Koreas nuclear facilities, an agreement regarding the fuel rods will also be made.

In the end, major factors to North Koreas nuclear issue are the high enriched uranium (HEU) program and disablement. While the HEU facilities are underground, the plutonium facilities are hard to detect via satellite. Ultimately, it may just come down to how much evidence and information the U.S. actually obtains.

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