In the December 7 edition of National Review Online, you published an article entitled "Holding North Korea Acccountable" in which Henry Sokolski and Victor Gilinsky urge an immediate halt to the construction of two nuclear power plants that the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) is building in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), unless the North Korean authorities agree to inspections by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
As an organization directed by an executive board composed of the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and the European Union to construct the two light water reactors (LWR) in North Korea, we must take issue with this approach.
Halting construction at this point would not only be unfounded, it may well prove counterproductive. Under the U.S.-DPRK Supply Agreement, the DPRK needs to come into "full compliance with its IAEA safeguards agreement …before delivery of key nuclear components" for the two reactors. This means that the reactors cannot be completed unless the IAEA will have gained full access to North Korea's nuclear program. Stopping the construction of the reactors at this point would remove the incentive for North Korea to accept — even if reluctantly — the very inspections that are meant to allow completion of the reactor project. Failure by the DPRK to cooperate with the IAEA would indeed delay the construction of the reactors, but we are not that point yet. Thus the KEDO project, which is supported by no fewer than 30 countries that are also IAEA members, remains an effective tool for bringing the DPRK into the international non-proliferation fold.
Even more seriously misleading is the writers' allegation that the two light water reactors (LWRs) which KEDO is building in the DPRK, could produce "some 50 bombs' worth of essentially weapons-grade plutonium during the first 15 months
of operation." They offer no support for this allegation. In reality, the DPRK has neither a suitable facility nor the expertise to separate the plutonium produced by light water reactors. This was made abundantly clear in October 1999 by two independent experts, David Albright and Holly Higgins, of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. Also, any future North Korean attempt to build such a separation facility would easily be detected and would simply not be tolerated by the international community.
Since its establishment in 1995 KEDO's agreements with the DPRK have helped ensure peace on the Korean Peninsula through nuclear non-proliferation. The repetition of seriously flawed arguments by Sokolski and Gilinsky is misleading, especially in the aftermath of September 11.
Marc Vogelaar, Director for Public Promotion and External Support Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) New York, NY
Henry Sokolski & Victor Gilinsky respond: KEDO is building two nuclear-power reactors for North Korea that the Clinton administration promised in 1994 in exchange for the North freezing its indigenous plutonium-production facilities.
The main recommendation we made was that the U.S. should enforce the 1994 agreement. It requires the DPRK to be in "full compliance" with its pledge to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) not to be making nuclear weapons or hiding nuclear-weapons materials To assure this, the l994 agreement requires North Korea to open its nuclear facilities up to a thorough IAEA inspection process before it can get the "key nuclear components" it needs to complete the U.S.-promised power reactors.
The IAEA says that this inspection process will take at least three years. Meanwhile, to keep construction of the two power reactors on schedule requires that North Korea receive the nuclear components in about three years. Our point is that if the North doesn't allow the IAEA to start inspecting now, we can be quite sure the North will not be in full compliance in three years. Under these circumstances, KEDO is under no obligation to continue with construction until North Korea opens its nuclear facilities to full IAEA inspections.
Mr. Vogelaar says holding up construction now would be "counterproductive." He agrees that DPRK failure to cooperate with the IAEA should eventually delay construction, but contends that "we are not at that point yet." He then makes three points on behalf of KEDO:
1. If the DPRK hasn't fully complied when the project needs the nuclear components, then KEDO will stop at that point. The trouble with KEDO's contention here is that when the project needs the nuclear components, the first U.S.-promised power reactor will be more than half built. At this point, there will
be considerable pressure to continue building rather than to force the large construction force present at the construction site to stand idle. Most worrisome is the likelihood that this will place tremendous demands on the IAEA to rush its inspections. This is what the North is counting on. In fact, the current regime has no intention of opening up fully. And when we are "at that point" (when the key nuclear components are needed and North Korea has still not met its IAEA obligations), we can be sure there will be voices urging lenience again. The DPRK are masters at playing this game. Thus, North Korea's latest line on inspections is that they don't have to allow the IAEA in until after the first reactor is built. We should not play along.
2. We needn't worry about the substantial weapons-grade plutonium production of the U.S.-promised power reactors because the DPRK doesn't have a facility to extract the plutonium from the new reactors' spent fuel. We have relied on the analysis of the bomb-making experts at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory regarding how much weapons-grade plutonium the two U.S.-promised reactors could quickly produce. KEDO does not contradict these estimates. Instead, Mr. Vogelaar argues North Korea does not have the facilities to separate this weapons plutonium from the power reactor's spent fuel. To obtain this capability, the DPRK would have to build a new front-end addition to their existing indigenous spent-fuel reprocessing plant. KEDO assumes that North Korea will not be able to acquire this addition to their reprocessing plant. This, however, seems dangerous to us. Certainly, North Korea has surprised us in the past with nuclear technology and rocketry and it is clear from his last point that Mr. Vogelaar allows that it might surprise us again.
3. Any future DPRK attempt to build such a separation facility would be detected and would "not be tolerated by the international community." This contention is perhaps KEDO's boldest. After all, the last time "the international community" caught North Korea violating its treaty obligations the North walked away with the promise of two large power reactors — the ones KEDO is building. Indeed, just how tough the international community would be and how quickly it might act is unclear. What's indisputable, however, is that with an improved reprocessing capability, North Korea could a mass a fairly large arsenal of nuclear weapons in a matter of months.
Mr. Vogelaar ends his letter by invoking September 11. Presumably, this reference was made to strengthen his case. But we think that date stands for being tougher with violators of international agreements on weapons of mass destruction, not for delaying such vigilance.