Adding to the suspense building up to his Tuesday talk in Washington, DC, Siegfried Hecker has again disclosed pertininent information about North Korea’s nuclear development. On Sunday November 21, Hecker purported that Pyongyang has built a new pilot uranium enrichment program with 2,000 centrifuges currently enriching low levels of uranium along with the construction of a light-water reactor believed to be used for plutonium production.
In my previous blog post, I said there is no need to sound alarm bells upon hearing Dr. Hecker’s announcement of a light-water reactor being built at Yongbyon since there were still too many questions left unanswered. However, with the latest bit of news, it is now time to keep a close and cautious eye on Pyongyang’s future movements. The fact that Dr. Hecker was amazed by North Korea’s level of advancement in its new uranium enrichment program is concerning since international experts had disabled key nuclear facilities and the United Nations has slapped a series of sanctions limiting Pyongyang’s ability to receive strategic material for nuclear facilities.
North Korea’s latest pursuits again seem to be in line with becoming a “mighty and prosperous nation by 2012” while preparing for a leadership succession.
The immediate quesitons that come to mind are: Where did they get the centrifuges and other materials? They claim to have built them indigenously, then where and how did they build them? North Korea’s goal is to complete the facilities by 2010, but in realistic terms how many more years will it take to achieve that goal? They claim to have begun construction in April 2009, then why did we just find out now and how are this far along already? Perhaps with the help of undisclosed military facilities? More analysis to come in futurep posts.
But in the meantime, we can expect the other five countries (at least three, South Korea, the U.S. and Japan) to the Six-Party Talks to react to this situation in some form, and we’ll have to wait to see the results of Ambassador Bosworth’s current Asia tour. It’s time they break the cycle of immediate, short reactions, and instead consistently pursue proactive measures to crack the North Korean nuclear problem.