The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on North Korea’s nuclear power development

January 6, 2012 by Joshua
in NorthKorea

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists published a story today on North Korea’s development of nuclear power. The story, North Korea from 30,000 Feet, begins with aerial photographs of a new nuclear reactor at the Yongbyon complex first publicly available on November 4, 2010.

Unlike a site merely showing images, the writers of the Bulletin article, researchers at Stanford, analyze the contents of the images, model the buildings, and speculate on progress and what the reactor can do.

The also speculate on the meaning of the progress to North Korea’s stability and relations. I thought the article considered things matter-of-factly, not judgmentally, which motivated me to write about it here (also my physics background).

Kim Jong-il’s apparent attempts to avoid crisis, preserve “stability,” and support the then-envisioned succession process has been overtaken by his mortality. In the current leadership circumstances, Pyongyang’s definition of stability might be quite different. Certainly, the North’s early media commentaries in the wake of Kim’s death highlighted as one of his signal accomplishments the country’s becoming a nuclear weapons state — a not unexpected emphasis, but not a hopeful signal, nevertheless. (In contrast, after the transition from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il, the North repeatedly maintained that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was one of Kim Il-sung’s deathbed wishes.)

Further complicating the picture is the North’s long-term fixation on light water reactors as a solution to its severe energy problem. Pyongyang’s goal of energy independence and security, which is married to the notion that a nuclear power industry is a potent political symbol, may not be something that Kim Jong-un is willing to abandon. Unless that idea is either broken or an alternative is supplied (something other than heavy fuel oil, which has become a tattered Band-Aid), the nuclear energy issue will probably remain unresolved. The United States should not challenge Pyongyang’s right to have nuclear electricity but instead provide a more pragmatic energy solution.

I found their distinction between what constituted stability before and after Kim Jong Il’s death astute and missed in most other media.

Their opinion “The United States should not challenge Pyongyang’s right to have nuclear electricity but instead provide a more pragmatic energy solution” seems supported by the article.

Anyway, the article is for the geeky — not very mainstream, but if you make it through to the end, you get to see a more systemic view. Perhaps I’m biased to expect scientists to clarify and seek understanding as opposed to, say, sensationalizing things.

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