N. Korea May Have Domestic Centrifuge Production Capability

Global Security Newswire Staff
See more stories about...
Global Security Newswire Staff
Sept. 24, 2013, 6:02 a.m.

North Korea may have ac­quired the abil­ity to in­di­gen­ously man­u­fac­ture spe­cial­ized-gas cent­ri­fuges, which would en­hance its ef­forts to en­rich urani­um and fur­ther lim­it the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity’s abil­ity to con­strain its nuc­le­ar-weapons work, the New York Times re­por­ted on Monday, cit­ing a new study.

The ana­lys­is by nuc­le­ar ex­perts Joshua Pol­lack and Scott Kemp comes amid oth­er in­dic­a­tions that Py­ongy­ang is mov­ing its nuc­le­ar-weapons pro­gram for­ward on mul­tiple fronts. Re­cently taken satel­lite pho­to­graphs show in­dic­a­tions of a pos­sible long-range rock­et-en­gine test and a formerly moth­balled plutoni­um-pro­duc­tion re­act­or ap­pears to have been re­star­ted.

The United States and oth­er na­tions have tried to lim­it North Korea’s abil­ity to en­rich urani­um by curb­ing its in­ter­na­tion­al ac­cess to the com­pon­ents and ma­ter­i­als needed to build ad­vanced cent­ri­fuges. If Py­ongy­ang were cap­able of build­ing cent­ri­fuges with parts it can loc­ally pro­duce, it would be much more dif­fi­cult for oth­er na­tions to es­tim­ate how much fis­sile ma­ter­i­al the North is cap­able of gen­er­at­ing. It would also be harder to be cer­tain it is abid­ing by de­nuc­lear­iz­a­tion prom­ises, should a new ac­cord ever be struck on the mat­ter.

“We won’t be in a good po­s­i­tion to spot them ex­pand­ing the pro­gram through for­eign shop­ping ex­ped­i­tions,” Pol­lack said. “Po­lices based on ex­port con­trols, sanc­tions and in­ter­dic­tion won’t get much trac­tion, either.”

“The deep­er im­plic­a­tion, if they are able to ex­pand the pro­gram un­checked, is that we’ll nev­er be too con­fid­ent that we know where all the cent­ri­fuges are. And that in turn could put a veri­fi­able de­nuc­lear­iz­a­tion deal out of reach,” he con­tin­ued.

Pol­lack said in­dic­a­tions sug­gest in­di­gen­ous pro­duc­tion of cent­ri­fuge parts star­ted at the latest four years ago. He and Kemp ex­amined pub­licly avail­able in­form­a­tion gathered from me­dia stor­ies, sci­entif­ic journ­als and re­gime an­nounce­ments to build the case that North Korea is fig­ur­ing out how to pro­duce nuc­le­ar pro­duc­tion-re­lated ma­ter­i­als and items such as va­cu­um pumps, mag­net­ic-top bear­ings, mar­aging steel, urani­um hex­a­flu­or­ide and fre­quency in­vert­ers.

U.S. nuc­le­ar weapons ex­pert Siegfried Heck­er in an e-mail to the Times said he be­lieves most of Pol­lack and Kemp’s ana­lys­is is cor­rect. However, he is less con­vinced of the evid­ence that Py­ongy­ang has the abil­ity to gen­er­ate high-qual­ity mar­aging steel — a par­tic­u­larly chal­len­ging part of the cent­ri­fuge man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cess. “Hav­ing said that, if North Korea does in­deed double the size of its Yongby­on cent­ri­fuge plant … then the like­li­hood of in­di­gen­ous fab­ric­a­tion of mar­aging steel has in­creased,” he wrote.

In a sign of how con­cerned China is over North Korea’s con­tin­ued nuc­le­ar-weapons de­vel­op­ment, Beijing has taken the un­usu­al step of pub­li­ciz­ing its new ex­port con­trols for a range of “dual-use” items that Py­ongy­ang is now banned from im­port­ing, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­por­ted on Tues­day. The re­stric­tions cov­er ma­ter­i­als that can be ad­ap­ted to pro­duce bio­lo­gic­al, chem­ic­al and nuc­le­ar weapons as well as bal­list­ic mis­siles.

In­stead of just quietly rolling out the new trade re­stric­tions, Beijing made a point of pub­licly an­noun­cing them, Nan­yang Tech­no­lo­gic­al Uni­versity China se­cur­ity spe­cial­ist Li Mingji­ang said.

“The lead­ers in Py­ongy­ang will hate this. They’ll be angry,” ac­cord­ing to the ex­pert.

What We're Following See More »
PRIME TIME ADDRESS
Bloomberg to Endorse Clinton This Week
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

Michael Bloomberg will endorse Hillary Clinton this week in a prime-time speech. "The news is an unexpected move from Mr. Bloomberg, who has not been a member of the Democratic Party since 2000; was elected the mayor of New York City as a Republican; and later became an independent. But it reflects Mr. Bloomberg’s increasing dismay about the rise of Donald J. Trump and a determination to see that the Republican nominee is defeated."

Source:
MOST WILL BE BOUND IN 2020
Democrats Vote Major Changes to Superdelegate System
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Democratic Rules Committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of a major shift in the superdelegate system Saturday night after a deal was reached between" the Clinton and Sanders camps. "The committee approved nearly unanimously an amendment that preserves the existing superdelegate role for elected U.S. lawmakers and governors, but will bind the remaining superdelegates — roughly two-thirds — to primary and caucus results."

Source:
SHE’LL HAVE A ROLE WITH CLINTON CAMP
Wasserman Schultz to Resign at Week’s End
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

"After hours of private talks," Debbie Wasserman Schultz agreed to step down as chair of the Democratic National Committee after the convention ends. In the wake of the convention intrigue, Hillary Clinton announced she's making Wasserman Schultz "the honorary chair of her campaign's 50-state program."

Source:
MARCIA FUDGE TO PRESIDE
Wasserman Schultz Stripped of Convention Duties
18 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz "will not have a major speaking role or preside over daily convention proceedings this week," and is under increasing pressure to resign. The DNC Rules Committee on Saturday named Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge as "permanent chair of the convention." At issue: internal DNC emails leaked by Wikileaks that show how "the DNC favored Clinton during the primary and tried to take down Bernie Sanders by questioning his religion."

Source:
EARLY BUMP FOR TRUMP?
New Round of Polls Show a Tight Race
3 days ago
THE LATEST
  • A Rasmussen Reports poll shows Donald Trump ahead of Hillary Clinton, 43%-42%, the fourth week in a row he's led the poll (one of the few poll in which he's led consistently of late).
  • A Reuters/Ipsos survey shows Clinton leading 40%-36%. In a four-way race, she maintains her four-point lead, 39%-35%, with Gary Johnson and Jill Stein pulling 7% and 3%, respectively.
  • And the LA Times/USC daily tracking poll shows a dead heat, with Trump ahead by about half a percentage point.
×