Asia-Pacific, Europe, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines

POLITICS-NORTH KOREA: Tense Nuclear Watch from Vienna

Mehru Jaffer

VIENNA, Dec 20 2002 (IPS) - Mohamed El-Baradei, Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency is still waiting for North Korean leaders to respond to his invitation for high-level talks. The agency has been more than just distressed since October when North Korean officials bragged they had a right to nuclear weapons.

As the world’s nuclear nursemaid, El-Baradei took steps to implement safeguards and denuclearise the Korean Peninsula. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sent faxes to the Korean government November 17 and 18 asking for precise information about its nuclear weapons programme, and offering to send a team to discuss safeguards. It has received no reply.

Instead, the North Korean government wrote back on December 12 asking IAEA to lift a freeze on its nuclear facilities so that it could resume generation of electricity. The government said this is necessary because the U.S. is suspending supply of fuel at the end of the year. The North Korean letters made no mention of El-Baradei’s letters.

The demands from North Korea are seen here as dangerous brinkmanship. The IAEA is insisting that containment and surveillance measures at nuclear power plants in North Korea remain in place. If these are removed or disabled, IAEA officials say North Korea could reprocess 8,000 spent fuel rods now lying in a temporary storage pond into enough plutonium to make five bombs within a month.

Pyongyang has announced that it is lifting the freeze on its nuclear programme to generate electricity, but the reactor at Yongbyon has never been connected to the power grid. The amount of electricity it could produce may not be significant.

Two other nuclear reactors under construction are also frozen under a 1994 agreement. Those reactors could greatly expand Pyongyang’s capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons. It would take three to five years before construction is complete and full-scale production begins.

One of these nuclear plants could produce about 220 kilograms of plutonium a year – enough for 30 to 40 bombs. The estimated start-up timeline for the second is also about three to five years, and this one could produce enough plutonium for seven to ten bombs a year.

In its first letter to El-Baradei, North Korea rejected a resolution adopted by the IAEA board of governors on November 29 insisting that North Korea implement the Agency’s safeguards. The letter also expressed disappointment over what it called the Agency’s unilateral and unfair approach. It blamed what it described as the IAEA’s hostile policy towards North Korea for the nuclear crisis in the Korean Peninsula.

In its second letter North Korea asked the IAEA to unseal the canisters containing the spent fuel rods so that it could generate electricity.

El-Baradei is in no hurry to comply with North Korea’s request, officials here say. He has also asked North Korea not to open the sealed canisters containing spent fuel or to tamper with the cameras keeping an eye on the cooling ponds where the fuel was canned between 1996 and 1998. The IAEA keeps a team of two international inspectors at the nuclear complex in Yongbyon.

According to U.S. authorities, North Korea acknowledged to American senator John F. Kerry in October that it had a programme to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Such a programme would violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the North Korea-IAEA Safeguards Agreement and the North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea could face serious consequences if it withdraws from the NPT or disregards the concerns of the IAEA, officials say.

Despite its monitoring moves, the IAEA has never had an exact picture of North Korea’s nuclear activities. North Korea signed the NPT in 1985 and entered into a safeguards agreement with the Agency in 1992.

The first row between the two came soon after when North Korea declared its plutonium capacity, also assessed independently by the IAEA. North Korea has been held responsible ever since for failing to comply with its non-proliferation obligations.

 
Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

Asia-Pacific, Europe, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines

POLITICS-NORTH KOREA: Tense Nuclear Watch from Vienna

Mehru Jaffer

VIENNA, Dec 20 2002 (IPS) - Mohamed El-Baradei, Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency is still waiting for North Korean leaders to respond to his invitation for high-level talks. The agency has been more than just distressed since October when North Korean officials bragged they had a right to nuclear weapons.
(more…)

 
Republish | | Print |

Related Tags