Challenges Posed by North Korea’s Weapon-Grade Uranium and Weapon-Grade Plutonium
With some indications North Korea is about to launch another dual use technology rocket i thought this reference might be handy in the event of a launch or crisis. The author David Albright is a former IAEA action team member.
For years, great controversy has surrounded North Korea’s uranium enrichment program. How large is it? Has it made weapon-grade uranium? How much could it make in the future? But there are also other questions. What is the role of the UEP in North Korea’s overall nuclear effort? Is the UEP oriented to make 3.5 percent low-enriched uranium (LEU) for a civilian light water reactor (LWR) under construction at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, as North Korea claims? Or does North Korea intend to enrich uranium to a higher level for use in the LWR to make weapon-grade plutonium for nuclear weapons? Although LWRs are not typically used to make weapon-grade plutonium, they can do so efficiently through what is called a target/driver system if the reactor core is specially designed with uranium enriched to a level greater than 3.5 percent.
To address these questions, we surveyed available information about North Korea’s UEP and LWR. Faced with significant uncertainties, we evaluated a range of plausible scenarios about the past and possible future operation of the centrifuge program. We focused particularly on producing a range of estimates of North Korea’s current and future stocks of weapon-grade uranium and the future possible production of weapon-grade plutonium in the Yongbyon LWR. We then derived central estimates. The scenarios and all the estimates are detailed in a recent ISIS report, North Korea’s Estimated Stocks of Plutonium and Weapon-Grade Uranium.