Next nuke test may use uranium

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Next nuke test may use uranium


After North Korea’s failed rocket launch Friday, speculation is rising that the Kim Jong-un regime will carry out a third nuclear test soon, but this time using highly enriched uranium fuel, not plutonium.

Gang Jeong-min, a visiting professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, told the JoongAng Ilbo that North Korea doesn’t have much plutonium after carrying out the two previous tests in 2006 and 2009, since it shut down its plutonium-producing facility in Yongbyon in 2007.

”Currently, we assume that the North possesses 30 or 40 kilograms [66 or 88 pounds] of plutonium,” Gang said. “So I think that they would use highly enriched uranium fuel rather than consume 6 or 7 kilograms of plutonium in the test.”

“Since the shutdown of the nuclear facility [in Yongbyon], they don’t officially produce plutonium fuel anymore,” Ham Hyeong-pil, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis, told the Korea JoongAng Daily yesterday. “So if it is found that the North conducts a nuclear test using uranium, it would mean that they have another hidden nuclear facility producing uranium fuel.”

Yun Duk-min, a professor at the state-run Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, told the JoongAng Ilbo that the North will use the nuclear test as a bargaining chip to revive the recent aid-for-denuclearization deal with the U.S., which wasn’t concluded after the North said it would launch the rocket.

“Using highly enriched uranium fuel is the biggest concern for the U.S. government, because it can be developed secretly,” Yun said. “It is expected that North Korea will use uranium in the test to revive the deal with the United States and avoid economic sanctions by the international community after the long-range ballistic rocket launch.”

North Korea agreed with the U.S. on Feb. 29 to not test nuclear weapons or missiles and suspend enriching uranium in exchange for 240,000 metric tons of nutritional aid.

The multi-stage rocket fired on Friday broke into pieces within minutes after liftoff. The debris landed in the South’s waters.

South Korean government sources recently said that the North appeared to be preparing for an underground nuclear test. Commercial satellite photographs showed piles of dirt and sand near a mine near the site of the two previous tests.

North Korea repeated that it possesses nuclear weapons in a recent editorial of the ruling Workers’ Party’s paper Rodong Sinmun, saying it was “a nation with satellite and launching technology” and “a state with nuclear weapons”.

 
By Jeong Yong-soo, Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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