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"Low-level" Disablement of North Korean Nuclear within the Year

Park Hyun Min  |  2007-09-16 12:45
While the disarmament experts team, comprised of U.S., Russia, and China, inspected the Yongbyun nuclear facility for agreement on disarmament of North Koreas nuclear facilities, it became known that disablement will be carried out at a lower level than the initial plan.

Both the U.S. and Korea initially planned to pursue disablement at a standard close to complete abandonment. However, the Bush administration set the deadline for the complete abandonment of the nuclear from next summer to fall, so to accomplish this, they seemed to have followed the evaluation that "disablement within the year" has to be decided.

Related to this, one foreign source said on the 12th, "In order to carry out denuclearization according to the roadmap of North Korean nuclear weapon abandonment, rather a quick completion of the phrases of disablement is the understanding of related nations. As for selecting high-level disablement, the plan to complete disablement within the year cannot help but to be delayed."

Nuclear facilities up for disablement are: The 5MW nuclear reactors of Yongbyun A radiation chemistry experimental lab A nuclear fuel rod factory and three Yongbyun nuclear facilities. The disablement project will be single-handedly carried out by the U.S. or it is feasible that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will incrementally participate.

Disablement literally means disabling facilities during operations. Here, many kinds of techniques are feasible, starting from getting rid of main parts to destroying the facility itself.

In the case of nuclear reactors, the most definitive method of dismantlement is disjointing the "graphite block" surrounding the fuel rod. However, even if this is recovered, a significant amount of time is required, so it is classified as a "high-level" dismantlement. However, the graphite block is polluted by radioactivity, so it takes a lot of time to dismantle and the risk of bombing exists.

After removing the fuel rods, blocking the place with concrete, for example, and disabling it from use decreases the degree of risk and can be a definitive measure for disablement. The Yongbyun 5MW nuclear reactor has a total of 810 fuel rod holes and it is not so difficult to plug these. However, the possibility of North Korea accepting this recommendation is not high.

For the radiation chemistry experimental labs, it is best to break fuel rods into small pieces and dismantle them into "chain-reacting piles" mixed with chemical products. Only by undergoing this process can plutonium and uranium be separately extracted, but even after a one-time reprocessing in the past, the chain-reacting piles, which are polluted from radioactivity, need time and technology.

Furthermore, the disablement technique experts team, who gathered their opinion of carrying out low-level dismantlement, left the nuclear reactor alone and will most likely propose means to remove the control rod driving gear controlling the speed of nuclear fission.

John Wolfstahl, a Senior Fellow at the U.S. Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), said on Radio Free Asia (RFA) on the 11th that North Korea will only accept the way that it will not touch nuclear reactors themselves and only allow damages to the reactor control units. Drilling holes in the reactors or pouring cement into them makes them permanently unusable, so it is difficult for North Korea to accept.

Sean McCormack, the U.S. State Department's spokesperson, said in an informal press conference on the 12th (local time), "Chris Hill heard this morning from the head of our delegation, Sung Kim, who is the head of the Korea office here at the State Department. And he reported that they visited the reactor facility at Yongbyun and they saw everything that they have to see. They are going to, tomorrow, be touring the rest of the facility." (according to the Daily Press Briefing of the U.S. Department of Sate)

However, the North Korean nuclear experts team who visited Yongbyun added, "He reported that they visited the reactor facility at Yongbyun and they saw everything that they have to see."

Further, the team, after looking at all three facilities in Yongbyun until the 13th, will return to Pyongyang on the 14th and will agree on a plan for the details of disablement. The course is to have a final verification of the roadmap for disablement based on the foundation of report contents when the Six Party Talks, which is planned for the middle of next week, submits their agreement.
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