Chill Out, North Korea

Of all the nations that have nuclear weapons, North Korea concerns our government the most for obvious reasons. Ever since the last international inspectors to set foot on North Korean soil were thrown out in April 2009, North Korea’s actions have been a matter of curiosity as well as controversy. A recent discovery from an American nuclear scientist from Stanford University, Siegfried S. Hecker, revealed the true extent to which North Korea had expanded its nuclear weapons program. During his visit to the country on Nov. 12, 2010, he learned that there were hundreds of centrifuges already installed and in use.

There are two methods to create a nuclear weapon. The first route, which had been pursued and employed by North Korea since the 1950s, is by obtaining plutonium from the spent fuel produced by a nuclear reactor. The second possible method (and the one currently under scrutiny) is the enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade status. The rate at which the facility was built strongly suggested that the impoverished, isolated country had evaded strict new United Nations Security Council sanctions. The uranium enrichment operation would be in clear violation of these rules, unless North Korea plans to build a light-water reactor to utilize the fuel or if the fuel is intended for a yet-to-be-built experimental reactor to make electricity (as North Korea insists is the case). Hecker also says that there is reason to question the validity of North Korea’s purposes of building the facility, given its history of defying international commitments.

Furthermore, because of the very nature of the occurrence, with it happening so quickly and in a nation that has blocked international inspections and therefore made it impossible to monitor, much speculation is expected.

North Korea is already a de facto nuclear state. In 2006, it conducted the first nuclear test in its nation’s history. However, the question still remains: what is the reason behind North Korea taking these actions? There is the prospect that the country is preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal or build a far more powerful type of atomic bomb. The nation’s current arsenal of eight to 12 weapons is all based on plutonium. But uranium enriched to bomb grade can also be used to drastically increase the destructive power of a nuclear blast, and that is the main use of uranium in modern arsenals. It is very hard to find out what the minds behind this are actually thinking. To complicate things further, U.N. sanctions have crippled some of the country’s ability to do business.

A clear and obvious reason that can be drawn from the creation of this facility is for North Korea to create a new bargaining chip to try to force President Obama to pay off the country, says one senior administration official. Other explanations are that North Korea wants worldwide recognition and acceptance as a nuclear state along with the other major nuclear powers; it is speculated that it will accelerate its nuclear weapons program as Kim Jong-Un ascends to the dictatorship in place of his aging father. Whatever the reason, it is drowning a nation already under water up to its neck.

Until an agreeable resolution for both North Korea and the rest of the world can be achieved, any actions in development of nuclear facilities taken by North Korea will be met with strict criticism by the rest of the world. The clandestine nature of North Korea’s actions creates sufficient reason for doubt and hints of a hidden purpose.

Sahil Batra is a fourth-year biological sciences major. She can be reached at