June 15, 2009 08:38
North Korea on Saturday responded to UN sanctions by claiming its program to develop nuclear weapons-grade enriched uranium had reached the experimental stage. UN Security Council Resolution 1874 was adopted unanimously last Friday to impose sanctions on the Stalinist country over its nuclear test. North Korea had previously denied U.S. allegations that it has a uranium enrichment program.
While it is possible for the outside world to detect North Korea's operation of its existing nuclear development program using plutonium extracted from spent fuel rods, uranium enrichment requires much smaller facilities and will be more difficult to monitor.
The North Korean Foreign Ministry in a statement Saturday said it "resolutely denounces and opposes UNSC Resolution 1874." It threatened to start enriching uranium, turn all newly extracted plutonium into weapons, and take military action if other countries attempt to stop and search its ships under the resolution.
◆ Covert Uranium Development
South Korea and the U.S. are particularly worried about the uranium enrichment. Among nuclear weapons development techniques, uranium enrichment does not require a large-scale facility and shows almost zero radioactive emissions.
Highly enriched uranium used for weapons does not need to be tested because it exploded easily once the critical mass of 20 kg is enriched. That is why North Korea will highly likely pursue nuclear development by concentrating on uranium enrichment, said Lee Choon-geun, chief of the inter-Korean cooperation team at the Science and Technology Policy Institute.
◆ Unknown Capacity
What the true level of North Korea's uranium enrichment technology and related facilities may be is unknown. Experts speculate the North may not have procured a complete set of needed components, although it seems that North Korea has reached the level to produce enriched uranium, but not highly enriched weapons-grade uranium.
North Korea has no capacity to produce components, like high-impact bearings needed for a centrifugal separator, with its own technology, and it is unlikely to have imported them because exports and imports are strongly controlled.
But no one can rule out that the North somehow got its hands on the necessary equipment given how much importance it puts on securing nuclear weapons.
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com