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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010
Pyongyang's new centrifuges
Mr. Siegfried Hecker, former chief of the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory, said Saturday that he saw "more than a thousand" centrifuges to enrich uranium and an "ultramodern control room" at a plant at North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex when he visited there Nov. 12. North Korea told him and two other U.S. nuclear scientists that 2,000 centrifuges were installed and running.
Pyongyang insists that the purpose of the plant is to enrich uranium for use as fuel for a 25- to 30-megawatt experimental light-water reactor under construction at Yongbyon. But it could be converted into a plant to produce highly enriched weapons-grade uranium. So far, North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons that use plutonium.
With the revelation of the new plant, North Korea may be trying to get the United States to hold bilateral talks and eventually offer rewards to the North in exchange for dismantling the plant. Or it may be trying to use the revelation as a means to bolster the position of Mr. Kim Jong Un, the third son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his heir apparent.
Whatever the motives behind North Korea's move, the international community must do its best to prevent that country from developing and possessing uranium-type nuclear weapons. Endowed with uranium ore, the North may develop a system that produces a large number of uranium-based nuclear weapons. Unlike plutonium-type nuclear weapons, uranium-type nuclear weapons do not necessarily require test explosions to verify their effectiveness.
The U.S., Japan and South Korea need to develop an effective channel of communication with North Korea. China, a benefactor of North Korea, should exercise its influence to discourage the North from possessing uranium-type nuclear weapons.
There is the possibility that despite the United Nations sanctions against North Korea, it may have obtained help or necessary information from abroad. The North says that its centrifuges are modeled on those at Almelo in the Netherlands and at Rokkasho in Japan. Although Japan denies any information leaks, it should tighten control on information that leads to nuclear proliferation.