Washer parts to be put on Watch List for North Korea

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Washer parts to be put on Watch List for North Korea

The South Korean government is looking to add washing machine motors to its “Watch List,” saying they can be misused by Pyongyang in its nuclear weapons program, according to a Ministry of Unification official on Tuesday.

This is part of Seoul’s unilateral measures to block Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development.

On Tuesday, the government announced fresh sanctions to curb the financing of Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction program. As part of such efforts, it is drawing up a separate list of targets for special surveillance.

This includes strategic equipment or technologies that can aid the production, development or storage of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction - which can extend to regular household electronics.

“We are cataloguing a Watch List to include items that can contribute to the development of nuclear and missile weapons,” the Unification Ministry official said, “that are not included on the list of items banned from export to North Korea by international society.

“There are quite a number of items that are used completely differently from their original purpose and converted for use in North Korea’s weapons development,” the official continued. “When North Korea was in its original nuclear development stage, it used barrel washing machine motors for centrifuges. Thus, washing machine motors will be included in our Watch List.”

At the start of its uranium nuclear weapons program, North Korea wanted to separate weapons-grade uranium-235 isotopes from uranium hexafluoride using centrifuges that rotate at very high speeds.

“Because centrifuges are so costly and are strategic materials, they cannot be imported easily, and North Korea seems to have used washing machine motors, which have similar performance properties,” the official said.

In November 2003, North Korea was caught smuggling in a 1.35-kilogram (3-pound) inverter motor, which can be used for centrifuges or washing machines, from Beijing.

“When the projectile from North Korea’s launch of the Unha-3 rocket in 2012 was dissembled, it contained components that could not be imagined being used,” Lee Chun-geun, a senior researcher at the Seoul-based Science and Technology Policy Institute, said. “The parts that were used in the Unha-3, such as temperature sensors, humidity sensors, batteries and cables, can all be included in a watch list.”

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy will be in charge of coming up with the Watch List. It will receive advice from the Unification Ministry and the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission. The Korea Strategic Trade Institute, affiliated with the Trade Ministry, began the work a day after United Nations Security Council Resolution 2270 was adopted on March 2 to sanction Pyongyang for its fourth nuclear test and a long-range missile test.

BY KIM HYOUNG-GU [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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