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N Korea Proliferation N Korea Proliferation Presentation Transcript

  • THE DPRK : A Report on Nuclear Capabilities and Potential Nuclear Smuggling
  • Outline
    • Background
    • Technical Expertise
      • The nuclear fuel cycle
      • Nuclear weapon design
    • Smuggling: Methods and Scenarios
      • Packaging the product
      • Shipping routes
      • Potential customers
  • Background: A Brief History
    • In December 2002, the DPRK expelled international weapons inspectors and restarted its reactor at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.
    • DPRK officials have since claimed that they have reprocessed all of the roughly 8000 spent fuel rods that were kept in storage as part of the 1994 Agreed Framework.
    • As part of an unofficial U.S. delegation to the DPRK in 2004, Dr. Hecker observed that the spent fuel pond in which they were stored was empty, and DPRK scientists and engineers went to great lengths to demonstrate that they possess the industrial facilities, equipment, and technical expertise required to carry out the reprocessing campaign for those spent fuel rods.
  • Background: Nuclear Proliferation Risks
    • There is universal agreement that these actions underscore the seriousness of the DPRK nuclear threat, but there is no similar consensus on how this threat will impact international security.
    • Despite what appears to be a strong deterrent against the use of its nuclear weapons, the deterrent against the transfer of its nuclear material, equipment, and/or technical expertise to rogue states or terrorists is arguably weaker.
    • This study seeks to provide some insight into the mechanisms the DPRK might employ to transfer its nuclear know-how to rogue states or terrorist groups.
  • Assumptions Made to Narrow Scope
    • The DPRK possesses at most 50 kilograms of plutonium.
    • The DPRK may consider becoming a player in the global nuclear smuggling business.
    • There exists at least one interested buyer for DPRK nuclear material, equipment, and/or technical expertise.
    • Any attempt at delivering a nuclear weapon or device will be “low-tech” in nature (e.g. by truck, plane, or ship).
  • Outline
    • Background
    • Technical Expertise
      • The nuclear fuel cycle
      • Nuclear weapon design
    • Smuggling: Methods and Scenarios
      • Packaging the product
      • Shipping routes
      • Potential customers
  • Origins of the DPRK Nuclear Program
    • In 1959, the Soviet Union and the DPRK signed a formal nuclear cooperation agreement that enabled the two countries to collaborate on a variety of projects, including the construction of the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center.
      • Allowed the DPRK to master basic technologies required to produce and separate plutonium
      • Not intended to assist the development of nuclear weapons
    • By around 1980, the DPRK was ready to launch an extensive program to produce significant quantities of plutonium for a nuclear weapons program and, ostensibly, a national nuclear power industry.
    • The program called for the indigenous design and construction of three gas-cooled, graphite-moderated, natural-uranium-fueled reactors.
  • Uranium Mining Operations
    • By the early 1990s, the DPRK could produce an estimated 300 metric tons of yellow cake per year.
    • Between 1980 and 1985, the DPRK completed a factory at Yongbyon to refine the yellow cake and produce uranium fuel for its reactors.
      • Can produce up to 300 metric tons of uranium fuel per year
    • According to IAEA officials today, the fuel fabrication facility has deteriorated significantly since the 1994 nuclear freeze.
    Metric Tons Amount of Uranium Fuel Required for One Complete Reactor Core Source: David Albright, Kevin O’Neill, eds., Solving the North Korean Nuclear Puzzle .
  • The Three Reactors
    • 5-MWe research reactor
      • Completed in 1985
    • 50-MWe prototype reactor
      • Construction began in 1984
      • Within a year of completion before the 1994 nuclear freeze
    • 200-MWe power reactor (located at Taechon)
      • Was in early stages of construction at the time of the freeze
    Photo Source: Globalsecurity.org
  • Current Reactor Status as of Jan 2004
    • 5-MWe research reactor
      • The reactor appears to be running smoothly, and can produce approximately 6 kg of plutonium (or roughly one weapon’s worth) per year.
    • 50-MWe prototype reactor
      • The construction site has deteriorated, and it is unclear how much of the existing structure can be salvaged.
      • In August 2005, DPRK officials claim that the reactor has been redesigned, and that workers are preparing to return to the construction site. 200-MWe power reactor
      • The situation is still being studied, but DPRK officials admit that the cost of salvaging the existing structure would exceed the cost of starting anew.
  • The Reprocessing Facility
    • Construction began at Yongbyon in 1984.
    • Two reprocessing lines can be operated, but according to DPRK officials, one serves as a backup for the other.
    • By 1994, the facility had a nominal capacity for reprocessing roughly 220 to 250 metric tons of spent fuel per year when operated continuously for 300 days.
      • More than enough to reprocess all of the spent fuel from the 5-MWe and 50-MWe reactors
    • In August 2005, DPRK officials claimed that technical improvements had increased the facility’s throughput by 30%.
  • Observations from Dr. Hecker’s Jan 2004 Visit
    • Dr. Hecker concluded that the sample he was shown was very likely a 200-gram piece of plutonium metal, but he could not determine whether it came from the most recent reprocessing campaign (i.e. from the 8,000 spent fuel rods removed from storage).
    • DPRK scientists and engineers went to great lengths to convince Dr. Hecker that they were capable of completing a full reprocessing campaign.
      • Gave him a tour of certain sections of the reprocessing facility
      • Showed him samples of what they claimed was plutonium metal and plutonium oxalate powder
    The DPRK has the requisite technical knowledge and adequate facilities to make plutonium.
  • Nuclear Weapon Design
    • The DPRK has mastered the full nuclear fuel cycle over the past several decades, but it is less clear whether it has achieved a similar level of expertise in nuclear weapon design, even after performing its first nuclear test.
    • During his January 2004 visit, Dr. Hecker was neither shown any evidence nor given the opportunity to speak with anyone who could convince him that they could build a nuclear device with their plutonium and weaponize it into a delivery vehicle.
    • The recent test has demonstrated that the DPRK is capable of building a nuclear device, but it is still unclear whether the small estimated yield was the result of a partial implosion of the plutonium core, an imperfect design, or a deliberately miniaturized device.
  • Past Efforts in Nuclear Weapon Design
    • Since at least the mid-1980s, the DPRK has conducted a series of tests with high explosives.
      • In theory, using surrogate materials for the fissile core such as natural or depleted uranium, these tests can be used to develop an effective nuclear weapon design without the need for a full nuclear test.
      • The recent test may have provided essential performance data that would allow DPRK scientists and engineers to refine their initial design, which in turn would boost their confidence in the performance of future nuclear weapon designs.
    • Initial efforts to develop nuclear weapons appear to be indigenous, but as they progressed, the DPRK may have benefited from outside help.
      • Pakistan may have provided the DPRK with nuclear weapon design information in the late 1990s.
  • Outline
    • Background
    • Technical Expertise
      • The nuclear fuel cycle
      • Nuclear weapon design
    • Smuggling: Methods and Scenarios
      • Packaging the product
      • Shipping routes
      • Potential customers
  • Packaging the Product
    • As mentioned earlier, Dr. Hecker concluded that the sample of plutonium metal shown to him during his 2004 visit was very likely genuine.
    • Based on his assessment, we can conclude that DPRK scientists have the technical expertise required to chemically manipulate plutonium into various forms, including two that could be shipped to customers easily:
      • Plutonium oxide power
      • Plutonium metal
    • Processing plutonium into a powder form might allow the DPRK to use shipping methods similar to the ones it uses to transport heroin.
    • Drawbacks:
      • Dangerous to handle
      • Additional processing required to convert the oxide back to a metal that is weapons-usable
    Plutonium Oxide Powder
  • Plutonium Metal “Pucks”
    • Plutonium alloy is easy to cast, safer to handle, and thus, more convenient to ship, provided that the surface is protected from oxidation.
    • The DPRK has the equipment and knowledge to cast small metal “pucks” that can be easily concealed within shipments of legitimate products.
    A puck of this size could easily fit in the palm of one’s hand. 6.5 cm 2 cm
    • Based on the DPRK’s own density figure for that sample – around 15 to 16 grams per cubic centimeter – the DPRK could produce 1-kg pucks with a diameter of roughly 6.5 cm and a thickness of 2 cm.
    9.8 cm 5.3 cm 1.4 cm
  • Detecting Plutonium “Pucks”
    • All isotopes of plutonium emit alpha particles and gamma rays.
      • Alpha particles have very short range and can be stopped easily by plastic, a glass container, or a cardboard box.
      • Gamma rays can penetrate these materials if they have sufficient energy, but those radiated from plutonium can be shielded without difficulty.
    The DPRK is unlikely to encounter significant challenges to shipping plutonium to interested customers.
    • Plutonium also decays by spontaneous fission, thus emitting neutrons that can be detected more easily than alpha particles or gamma rays.
      • Even isotopes have higher spontaneous fission rates than odd isotopes, but weapons-grade plutonium typically contains less than 6% Pu-240 and more than 94% Pu-239.
  • Packaging a Nuclear Weapon
    • Anticipating that its potential customers are likely to want more than just weapons-grade plutonium, the DPRK could provide a complete set of components for a nuclear device.
      • Unlikely that the DPRK would ship a device fully-assembled
      • Would probably choose to ship smaller individual components over a period of several months before providing the technical assistance required to assemble the weapon
    • Terrorists would face significant but not insurmountable challenges in constructing and detonating a primitive nuclear device.
    • Even if a device only produced a fraction of the design yield when detonated, it could cause enough physical destruction and economic disruption to make the event catastrophic.
  • Shipping Routes
    • Source: Andrew Prosser, “Nuclear Traffic Routes: Dangerous Trends in Souther Asia.”
  • Shipping Strategies
    • As long as the DPRK can continue to use land and air routes without being bothered by Chinese authorities, there will be little incentive for it to risk smuggling by sea, where it faces the threat of maritime interception under the U.S. Proliferation Security Initiative and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718.
      • Assumes that the DPRK has access to key transshipment points like Pakistan
    • Like the Khan network, the DPRK can exploit countries inside and outside international export control regimes whose nonproliferation enforcement records are less than exemplary.
      • South Africa
      • Malaysia
      • United Arab Emirates (Dubai)
  • DPRK Incentives to Enter the Nuclear Black Market
    • To generate revenue
      • Unlikely to be the primary motivation
      • Little incentive to assume far greater risks to achieve less reliable returns
      • Financial sanctions may cause the DPRK to reevaluate these risks and their potential payoffs.
    • To align the DPRK with groups – e.g. rogue states and terrorist organizations – that share a similar political agenda
      • Must still consider the risk of doing nuclear business with such groups, especially if the material provided is used in an attack
  • Deterring the DPRK from Doing Nuclear Business
    • The DPRK can be effectively deterred from doing business with groups who might use the material or equipment they purchase.
      • The detonation of a nuclear device that could be traced back to the DPRK would elicit strong responses from the international community, possibly including calls for military action resulting in regime change.
    • The strength of this deterrent depends on U.S. attribution capabilities.
      • In general, the attribution of fissile material in a nuclear weapon is easier to do before the weapon is detonated, although post-explosion attribution is still possible.
      • Even if the U.S. lacked the capability for nuclear attribution, the U.S. could probably leverage international outrage to force other nuclear-weapon states to provide data proving their innocence, thus fingering the DPRK by process of elimination.
  • Potential Customers: Terrorists
    • So far, there have been no known dealings in nuclear technologies between terrorist groups and the DPRK.
    • It is unlikely that the DPRK would want to do business with terrorist groups at all unless it faced certain defeat in a military conflict.
      • To try to deter an impending U.S. attack, the DPRK may choose to “outsource” the delivery of a nuclear weapon (or weapons) to terrorists.
      • Terrorists may not necessarily be so eager to attack U.S. assets with a nuclear weapon despite rhetoric suggesting otherwise.
    • It is worth noting that in the past, other regimes have neither chosen to use nor threaten the use of their weapons of mass destruction in military conflicts with the U.S. and its allies, even when regime change seemed likely.
  • Potential Customers: Organized Crime
    • Organized crime is driven by profit, not ideology, so as long as the deal is lucrative enough, it probably cares little about the end-use of the items involved.
      • Would not alleviate DPRK concerns about U.S. nuclear attribution capabilities
    • It is unlikely that organized crime would want to be involved in delivering and detonating a nuclear weapon.
      • Potential for government crackdown could severely hamper their ability to do other business
      • Might be willing to play more limited role, e.g. as deliverymen
  • Potential Customers: Iran
    • The DPRK and Iran could develop a relationship in nuclear material, equipment, and technical expertise, much like their past relationship in ballistic missile technology.
      • Could give Iran an instant weapons capability
      • Clear benefits to Iran from the DPRK’s hands-on knowledge of the full nuclear fuel cycle
      • Iran can help finance the DPRK nuclear weapons program, just as it had done with the DPRK missile program in the mid-1980s, by supplying cash, heavily discounted rates on essential resources, or both.
    • Cooperation between the DPRK and Iran in nuclear weapons technology would be difficult to detect, but even if intelligence sources could, it is unclear whether the discovery is enough to justify military action against either country.
  • Outline
    • Background
    • Technical Expertise
      • Nuclear weapon design
      • The nuclear fuel cycle
    • Smuggling: Methods and Scenarios
      • Packaging the product
      • Shipping routes
      • Potential customers
  • Key Findings
    • The DPRK has successfully mastered the full nuclear fuel cycle and is capable of expanding its ability to produce enough weapons-grade plutonium to make around 10 nuclear weapons per year.
    • The DPRK has yet to demonstrate a similar mastery in nuclear weapon design, even after performing its first nuclear test.
    • Because regime survival is the top priority for the DPRK, there exists a strong deterrent against the use of its nuclear weapons, but the deterrent against the transfer of its nuclear material, equipment, and/or expertise to rogue states or terrorists is weaker, especially if the DPRK can maintain the confidentiality of its transactions.
  • Key Findings cont…
    • Terrorists and organized crime are the least likely customers primarily because the material they buy could end up in a nuclear attack.
    • The preferred and most likely customer for the DPRK would be a rogue state seeking to develop or improve its nuclear weapons capabilities. Iran, in particular, is the DPRK’s most likely customer because both sides stand to benefit greatly from a relationship in nuclear weapons technology.