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North Korea nuclear weapons program

North Korea

North Korea has been attempting to obtain nuclear weapons since the late 1970s. The crisis returned to the headlines in 2002 after North Korea was named as a member of the "Axis of Evil" by United States President George W. Bush and after Pyongyang revealed that it was running a clandestine nuclear weapons program in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the 1994 U.S.-North Korea nuclear pact.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty allows only five nations (including the United States) to possess nuclear weapons among the 188 countries that signed the treaty. Other nations with nuclear weapons, aside from UN Security Council permanent members Russia, the People's Republic of China, France, and the United Kingdom, are India, Pakistan and Israel.

Table of contents
1 Plutonium
2 Enriched uranium
3 Chronology of events
4 External Links


Concern focuses around two reactors at Yongbyon, both of them small power stations using Magnox technology. The smaller (5MWe) was completed in 1986 and has since produced possibly 8,000 spent fuel elements. Construction of the larger plant (50MWe) commenced in 1984 but in 2003 was still incomplete. This larger plant is based on the declassified blueprints of the Calder Hall power reactors used to produce plutonium for the UK nuclear weapons program.

It has also been suggested that small amounts of plutonium could have been produced in a Russian-supplied IRT-2000 heavy-water moderated research reactor completed in 1967, but there are no recorded safeguards violations with respect to this plant.

On March 12, 1993, North Korea said that it planned to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and refused to allow inspectors access to its nuclear sites. By 1994, the United States believed that North Korea had enough reprocessed plutonium to produce about 10 bombs with the amount of plutonium increasing. Faced with diplomatic pressure and the threat of American military airstrikes against the reactor, North Korea agreed to dismantle its plutonium program as part of the Agreed Framework in which South Korea and the United States would provide North Korea with light water reactors and fuel oil until those reactors could be completed. Because the light water reactors would require enriched uranium to be imported from outside North Korea, the amount of reactor fuel and waste could be more easily tracked making it more difficult to divert nuclear waste to be reprocessed into plutonium.

Enriched uranium

However, with the abandonment of its plutonium program, North Korea secretly began a program to build a bomb based on enriched uranium. Pakistan, a nuclear-capable country, supplied key technology and information to North Korea in exchange for missiles to use in the India-Pakistan conflict around 1997, according to U.S. intelligence officials. This program was publicized in October 2002 when the United States asked about the program to North Korean officials and to the surprise of the United States, the North Korean officials admitted the existence of the program.

In October 2002, North Korea admitted to running a clandestine nuclear weapons program, according to U.S. sources [1]. This was widely seen as a violation of both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the 1994 U.S.-North Korea nuclear pact signed during the Clinton administration. North Korean officials stated that the reactivation of their weapon of mass destruction program was in response to "imperialist threats" (presumably the United States). The United States proceeded to stop shipments of fuel oil under the Agreed Framework.

In late December 2002 North Korea expelled United Nations weapons inspectors, and announced plans to reactivate a dormant nuclear fuel processing laboratory and power plant north of Pyongyang, if the United States did not agree to a non invasion pact. This nuclear reactor is thought by U.S. officials to be the source for plutonium for two previously produced atomic bombs.

Even though U.S. President George W. Bush had named North Korea as part of an "Axis of Evil" following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks, U.S. officials stated that the United States was not planning any immediate military action. This was seen by many as contrary to the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive military action aimed at preventing rogue nations and groups from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. (See: George W. Bush administration policy toward North Korea and U.S. plan to invade Iraq)

Diplomatic efforts at resolving the North Korean situation are complicated by the different goals and interests of the nations of the region. While none of the parties desire a North Korea with nuclear weapons, South Korea and Japan are very concerned about North Korean counterstrikes in case of military action against Korea. The People's Republic of China and South Korea are also very worried about the economic and social consequences should this situation cause the North Korean government to collapse.

Chronology of events

On January 10, 2003, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

On January 23, 2003, North Korea and South Korea agree to find peaceful solution to nuclear crisis.

On January 27, 2003, former U.S. President Bill Clinton urged the Bush government to sign a non-aggression pact with North Korea, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He argued that poverty was driving it to sell missiles and bombs, being its cash crop. The United States should "give them a nonaggression pact if they want that, because we'd never attack them unless they did something that violated that pact anyway."

Officials from the United States stated on February 26, 2003 that North Korea had reactivated a reactor at its main nuclear complex.

In a continuing show of force, armed North Korean fighter aircraft intercepted and may have targeted a United States reconnaissance aircraft over International Waters in the Sea of Japan on March 2, 2003. That was the first such interception since April 1969 when a North Korean jet shot down a United States Navy surveillance airplane, killing all 31 crewmen aboard.

On March 6, 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld revealed that the United States is considering completely withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea.

On April 24, 2003, the United States, People's Republic of China, and North Korea met in Beijing for trilateral discussions about North Korea's nuclear weapons program. No resolution was reached, and tensions remain high. The United States has raised the spectre of sanctions against North Korea due to Pyongyang's brinkmanship. In the past, North Korea has said that international sanctions would constitute a "declaration of war."

On April 27, 2003, South Korea sent a delegation to Pyongyang pushing the North to end its nuclear weapons program.

On May 12, 2003, North Korea declared the 1992 accord with South Korea nullified, which agreed to keep the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons, citing U.S. hostility as a threat to its soverignty. [1] S. Korea responded on May 14 that since the U.S. has continued to proceed with its promise to build two nuclear reactors in the North, the accord is still effective. The South's announcement came as its president Roh Moo-hyun met with George W. Bush in Washington DC to discuss a common approach to North's pursuit of nuclear weapons. [1]

On August 6, 2003, North Korea and Iran plan to form an alliance to develop long-range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. Under the plan, North Korea will transport missile parts to Iran for assembly at a plant near Tehran, Iran.

On August 28, 2003, North Korea announced that it is in possession of nuclear weapons, has the means to deliver them, and will soon be carrying out a nuclear test to demonstrate this capability.

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