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Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Washington Monthly

The Washington Monthly: Little history and other info for this thread:

1) Plutonium extraction (relatively easy) versus enriched uranium (pretty hard): All commercial nuclear reactors burn 3-5% U235 and output some plutonium. For a light water reactor, its about .6% by weight of the spent fuel rods or around 10kg per year (enough for 1 nuke). The NK reactors were completed and went online in 1986. Fuel rods get cycled out every three years or so (more often if you've got the spare 3% U235 fuel rods and want to harvest more plutonium). The NPT (NK was a signatory) would have required the rods go back to China, unclear if that happened. NK started building a fuel rod reprocessing plant (which can also separate out the plutonium) in 89 under elder Bush. Became active in 92 or 93. Unclear how much P239 they harvested out. Minimum, assuming they didn't have the extra fuel rods, was enough for 1-2 plutonium bombs. May have been a handful more. Reagan and H.W. Bush did nothing to stop NK and left a mess for Clinton to deal with. Didn't appease/bribe the elder Kim, but didn't stop him either.

2) Yes Clinton used a carrot (Agreed Framework: free oil, food and 2 lightwater reactors - with spent rods sent back to US) and stick (sabre rattling in early 94; sent advance logistics and repositioned some military assets). Since 94 the spent fuel rods were regularly counted and kept locked with inspections by IAEA. Were we appeasing or outright bribing the NK government? Yep. But it did work.

3) Uranium enrichment program: I don't doubt NK had some type of contingency plans for getting the other material for nukes (90% or greater U235) going under Clinton. Plans, sure. Actual progesss? Well, they apparently did not have the infrastructure from 94-2000. We're talking thousands of cascaded gas centrifuges (each the size of a small room), uranium ore processing facilities, and a hexaflourine plant. However, our intel said they actually started bringing gas centrifuges online in 2001 and 2002. Where did they get the technology? From Pakistan. Exchanged long range missles for them. Unofficially acknowledged in Oct 2002, but Bush needed Pakistan for GWOT so no problemo - the NK WMD program went right along. BTW, this did not make India happy. India that is now installing a heavy water reactor in Iran (output of 40-80kg of P239 yearly). Speaking of mixed messages, W also released $95M for the NK reactors in 2002.

4) Plutonium recovery: NK started limiting the IAEA inspectors and kicking them out by 2003. In early 2004 during a meeting with US officials, they acknowledged the uranium enrichment and that the previously shuttered reprocessing plant would begin to extract plutonium from the rods that had been under IAEA lockdown.


Argh! Too long a post. Plutonium primer: http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/doe/lanl/pubs/00818005.pdf

Slate article about NK & current Bush: http://www.slate.com/id/2151354

See also www.fas.org & www.globalsecurity.org for more basics about reactors, nuclear bombs(that was either a fake or a "fizzle" given the siesmic yield indications), and other stuff.
Posted by: Habitat-Vic on October 12, 2006 at 4:45 PM

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