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Neglected Steps: The Agreed Framework's Nonproliferation and Nuclear Safety Provisions

At the conference "Korea Policy Challenges for the New Administration", sponsored by AEI-NPEC,  Trip Report of Discussions Held in Japan and South Korea February 27 – March 2, 2001 on the US-DPRK Agreed Framework

Mar 31, 2001
AUTHOR: Henry Sokolski
Neglected Steps-The Agreed Frameworks Nonproliferation and Nuclear Saf.... (PDF) 73.31 KB

Neglected Steps: The Agreed Framework's Nonproliferation and Nuclear Safety Provisions

A Nonproliferation Policy Education Center Trip Report of Discussions Held in Japan and South Korea February 27 – March 2, 2001 on the US-DPRK Agreed Framework

Presented before an American Enterprise Institute – NPEC Sponsored Conference: "Korea Policy Challenges for the New Administration" 13 March 2001 Washington, DC


Trip Report


I. Itinerary

II. NPEC Talking Points

III. & IV. The Agreed Framework Text and the KEDO Supply Agreement

Appendices V, VI, and VII are available from NPEC upon request. To request these documents, email, call 571-970-3187 or fax 571-970-3192.

V. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Safety Requirements on Off-site Power Supplies for Nuclear Power Reactors (NUREG-0800)

VI. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Light Water Reactor Weapons- grade Plutonium Production Analysis

VII. Report on Clinton Administration’s Plans to Pressure the International Atomic Energy Agency to "Bend Its Rules" for North Korea

Trip Report


This trip report summarizes the key points discussed in 16 separate overseas meetings held in Japan and South Korea on the nuclear provisions of the l994 Agreed Framework (for a detailed listing of these meetings, see Appendix I). These private meetings, held between February 27 and March 2, 2001, allowed Nonproliferation Policy Education’s (NPEC’s) executive director, Henry Sokolski, and NPEC Advisory Board member, Victor Gilinsky, to learn what individuals in Japan and South Korea think implementation of the Agreed Framework requires. These individuals included U.S. overseas officials, Japanese and Republic of Korea government authorities, South Korean opposition political figures, and

Asian nuclear industry experts, environmentalists, academics, and diplomatic reporters.

Most of the foreign experts NPEC met with understood the terms of the Agreed Framework’s nuclear provisions. Yet, few seemed fully to appreciate what these provisions required of the parties or how enforcing the 1994 understanding and its associated reactor supply contract made completion of the reactors problematic (for the full text of the Agreed Framework and its related supply contract, see Appendix III and Appendix IV). In addition, most were unaware of how useful the two reactors would be for making nuclear explosive materials. For these reasons, NPEC continues to believe that making all or part of the Agreed Framework nonnuclear is desirable. It’s NPEC’s belief, though, that the best way to convince our allies and North Korea of this is to hold fast to the Agreed Framework’s nonproliferation and nuclear safety provisions and insist that they be fully met.

Key Findings

This final conclusion is supported by the trip’s key findings:

Few experts NPEC met with appreciated how much lead time – at least three to four years – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would need to determine that Pyongyang is no longer hiding nuclear weapons materials and is completely out of the bomb making business. All of those interviewed knew that the Agreed Framework prohibited the export of key nuclear reactor parts to North Korea until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) made this determination. Yet, most assumed that the agency could complete its inspections in a year or two and a few officials cynically suggested that the IAEA’s determination was simply a political judgement that the agency could make when its chief members so decided (on this point, see Appendix VII). In fact, the agency’s estimate of at least three to four years is based on how long it took to inspect South Africa, a country and cooperated fully with IAEA inspectors. The IAEA’s estimate is also driven by the lead time that ended its nuclear weapons program it requires to develop special diagnostic equipment based on on-site measurements in North Korea. Finally, the IAEA’s estimate assumes Pyongyang’s immediate willingness to open its nuclear operating records and nuclear sites to agency inspectors — something North Korea has so far opposed. It is this lack of North Korean cooperation with the IAEA that now threatens to hold up construction of the reactors. In fact, several South Korean officials indicated that construction of the first reactor building might be completed well before the IAEA could make its determination (i.e., without watering down its inspection standards). In this case, several South Korean officials claimed that they would simply hold up the project until the inspections were complete. Yet, just as many believed the problem would never arise because the IAEA would be accommodating. None seemed to have considered what might happen if the United States and its Asian allies differed on whether to insist on complete and thorough IAEA inspections, as might well happen. More important, none was convinced that North Korea would ever comply fully.

Although most of the Japanese and South Korean officials NPEC met with knew of U.S. legal restrictions against exporting nuclear components to violators of the NPT and IAEA, nearly all mistakenly assumed these laws would be waived in North Korea’s case. Under the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, U.S. exports of key nuclear components are prohibited to any nation that has abrogated IAEA safeguards, violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), or tried to make nuclear materials for weapons purposes. Moreover, such exports are prohibited to any nation with which the U.S. does not have a formal agreement for nuclear cooperation. These requirements were not unknown to the foreign officials with whom NPEC spoke. They also understood that North Korea failed to meet these requirements in every respect. Nearly all of them, however, believed this did not matter since they had been informed that the President could waive the requirements of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act if it was imperative to America’s national security. To them, it was obvious that what was in South Korea’s diplomatic interest was clearly in America’s national security interest. As one high-level official put it, "The U.S. President ought to waive the legal restrictions since building the reactors serves the purpose of promoting peace on the Peninsula." None of these officials appreciated how unlikely it was that a U.S. President — especially this president — would grant such a waiver, particularly if North Korea failed to satisfy the IAEA that it was completely out of the bomb making business. Nor were they fully aware of how reluctant Democrats and Republicans in Congress might be to approve a nuclear cooperative agreement with North Korea until and unless it satisfied the IAEA, and became a "normal" country. Interestingly, South Korean non-governmental experts expressed a similar view — that one could not turn over a completed nuclear power plant to the North so long as it remains a grim, closed dictatorship. Finally, and perhaps most worrisome, none of the officials NPEC met with seemed to have seriously considered the prospect that the reactors’ construction might have to be held up until the United States approved the export of key U.S.-made nuclear parts. Some officials indicated that they simply assumed that the key U.S., Japanese and South Korean nuclear parts necessary to complete the reactors would be available when needed by the project. Indeed, there was no indication that they had made any contingency plans on what to do if these parts were not then available. Finally, none of the officials NPEC met with seemed to have given any thought to the prospect that if they continued to build the reactor buildings at the current pace, it could precipitate an alliance crisis: While the United States would likely insist on upholding its laws, there would probably be pressures from South Korea and other Asian states (and, of course, Pyongyang) to keep the reactor construction schedule on track.

Among the government officials NPEC met with, there was little understanding of how important and difficult it would be for the promised light water reactors (LWRs) in North Korea to meet U.S. and IAEA nuclear safety standards. Under the Reactor Supply Contract required by the Agreed Framework (see Appendix IV), the two reactors must meet U.S. and international safety standards (i.e., those of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the IAEA). Although all of the Japanese and South Korean experts NPEC met with knew of this requirement, only one — a nongovernmental energy expert — was fully aware of the difficulty in meeting these safety standards. All of the other officials NPEC met with mistakenly assumed that the project already met NRC and IAEA safety requirements or that they could be met with little additional effort. In fact, these plants would never be licensed in the United States for at least two reasons. First, these reactors generate too much power (1,000 megawatts each) to operate safely on North Korea’s weak and relatively small electrical system. Normally, a single power plant’s electrical production should not be more 10 percent — and preferably much less — of the total ready capacity of the electrical system to which it is attached. This is to guarantee that if the largest plant on the system shuts down suddenly, it does not bring the down the entire electrical system. In North Korea’s case, the total readily available electrical production capacity of all of its power plants is only a few thousand megawatts (the actual production is now about two thousand megawatts). To bring the first of the two reactors on line, then, North Korea’s total electric power generating capacity would have to be increased several fold. In addition, this expanded electrical capacity would all have to be connected by a reliable electric transmission system. Unfortunately, accomplishing this will require much more time than the seven years allotted for the completion of the first reactor. One way around this problem would be for South Korea to link the two reactors into its own electric grid by means of a long transmission line to the North, the estimated cost of which is about $700 million. This, however, would undermine a key objective of the project, which was to supply electricity to North Korea. Several of the South Korean and Japanese officials NPEC met with were aware of these challenges. As already noted, however, all of them downplayed the difficulty of meeting them. A few insisted that these issues were being addressed but offered no specifics. Yet, others argued that these issues were exclusively North Korea’s problem and that if North Korea failed to address them, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) would simply refuse to hand the plants over. None indicated that South Korea had any plans to integrate North and South Korea’s grid or to build power lines from the reactors to the South. This brings us to the second reason why the reactors would have extreme difficulty meeting U.S. or international safety standards: To assure that the reactors would not meltdown in the case of an accident, it is essential that they have several reliable sources of electricity to run their safety equipment and cooling pumps. The NRC, in fact, requires all U.S. nuclear power plants (for a copy of NUREG 0800 see Appendix V) not just to have on-site emergency diesel generators (which can fail), but two reliable, independent sources of electric power running to the reactor site. This is precisely what North Korea’s rickety electrical system cannot now provide. Again, the only person to understand how important and difficult it was to meet these standards was a South Korean energy expert working outside of the government. The government officials NPEC met with seemed to take these issues far less seriously.

Few of the experts NPEC met with understood how useful the two reactors would be for making weapons-grade plutonium and how difficult it would be to prevent North Korea from exploiting this if it chose to do so. In fact, most of the Japanese and South Korean officials NPEC met with subscribed to a variety of mistaken views regarding the reactors’ weapons utility. Most believed that the plutonium the reactors produced would be unsuitable to make nuclear explosives. In fact, all of the plutonium the reactors produce could be used to make deliverable nuclear explosives of high or low yield. Nor did any of these officials know that the two light water reactors (LWRs) could be operated to produce large amounts of weapons-grade plutonium. In fact, during the first 15 months of normal commercial operation, just one of these reactors produce over 300 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium—enough for over 60 implosion warheads (for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory analysis on this, see Appendix VI). When pressed on this point, South Korean officials made two different arguments, which they claim they got from U.S officials. The first was that North Korea’s current reprocessing plant cannot handle the LWR fuel without an addition of a new front end processing unit to its plant. Implicit to this argument was the shaky assumption that Pyongyang could not acquire this technology by the time the first reactor is putting out spent fuel. In fact, the North has more than once surprised DPRK watchers with its technical achievements, its multi-stage rockets being a case in point. The second argument was that IAEA inspectors could, in any case, detect such efforts. This point, however, ignores the possibility that Pyongyang might send the inspectors packing as it did in l993. In this case, the IAEA might have reason to fear the worst but it would hardly have the means to prevent Pyongyang from extracting scores of bombs’ worth of plutonium from the reactors’ spent fuel. None of the officials NPEC met with denied this last point.

The South Korean and Japanese experts NPEC met with did not support modifying the Agreed Framework. For all of the reasons noted above, NPEC repeatedly raised the idea of making part or all of the Agreed Framework’s power plant pledges non-nuclear (for a copy of the talking points used, see Appendix II). The idea here would be to offer to refurbish North Korea’s electrical transmission system or its generating plants, or to add nonnuclear power plants. In exchange (and to avoid short circuiting the Agreed Framework), North Korea would have to perform one or more of the nonproliferation steps -- depending upon how much electrical aid was supplied -- as required by the 1994 Framework. For example, as soon as one thousand megawatts worth of such electrical assistance was supplied, North Korea would have to perform all of the nonproliferation conditions that the Agreed Framework originally made contingent upon the supply of the first one thousand megawatt reactor. Although NPEC still believes that this is the soundest approach and is heartened to see other current and former senior U.S. officials now back the idea, the Japanese and South Korean officials NPEC met with did not support it. South Korean government officials were anxious to keep building the reactors for several reasons. First, they have only just persuaded the South Korean people to pay for the reactors and have passed legislation to secure public financing. Second, large influential South Korean firms have a keen financial interest in getting paid to build the plants. Finally, the Korean Electric Power Company (KEPCO), which is government owned, is eager to demonstrate that it can build a nuclear power plant outside of South Korea so it can secure export orders for such plants elsewhere. Opposition party figures, meanwhile, are hardly eager to oppose the deal since they were responsible for supporting its original adoption in l994. Even anti-nuclear groups in South Korea are loath to suggest nonnuclear alternatives since they worry that it might cause friction with North Korean authorities, with whom they were planning to work on small cooperative projects.

Conclusions and Recommendation

The findings noted above commend the following conclusions and recommendation:

It is difficult to see how the two promised reactors will ever get built if the U.S., South Korea, and Japan actually enforce the nonproliferation and nuclear safety provisions of the Agreed Framework and the associated reactor supply contract.

There is a danger that unless the U.S., South Korea and Japan recognize this now, a riff in alliance relations may emerge within the next two to three years that other states, especially North Korea, would exploit.

Although NPEC always thought providing nonnuclear electrical assistance to North Korea made more sense than providing it with reactors, the trip highlighted that the best way to persuade Pyongyang and our allies of this is to get them to recognize all of what implementing the Agreed Framework’s nonproliferation and nuclear safety provisions requires.

In specific, all of the parties, including North Korea, need to work now to detail a construction schedule that fully integrates all of the nonproliferation and nuclear safety steps that must be taken to live up to the Agreed Framework and the associated reactor supply agreement.

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Appendix I: Itinerary

Monday, February 26 – Tokyo

11:00 am Meeting at U.S. Embassy: James H. Hall: Minister-Counselor (Science) Abigail S. Friedman: First Secretary, Political Section Mark R. Evans: Second Secretary, Environmental, Scientific, and Technological Affairs Nan Nida Fife: First Secretary, Political Affairs

Lunch Tokyo-American Club

Keizo Takewaka: Senior Assistant for Korean Affairs, Northeast Asian Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Kunio Nakamura: Science and Nuclear Policy Energy Division, Foreign Policy Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Keiichiro Morishita: Senior Assistant for Multilateral Nuclear Cooperation, Director for KEDO Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tokyo Jim Hall Mark Evans

Tuesday, February 27 – Seoul

8:30 a.m.: Meeting with Evans Revere, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy in Seoul

11:00 a.m.:Meeting at the Unification Ministry Sang-il Hahn: Director, International Cooperation Division, Ministry of Unification Kwang Ho Park: Deputy director, Information Analysis Bureau Seongwhun Cheon: Senior Research Fellow, Korea Institute for National Unification

Lunch Chang-Saeng Shim: Vice President Power-Built Consulting Chong-Hun Rieh: President & CEO Power-Built Consulting Myung Sang Jang: Seoul Representative, Clemensen Capital

2:00 p.m. Meeting at the headquarters of the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM)

KimJeong-Soo, KFEM Political Affairs Director Seo, Hyung Won, KFEM Political Affairs Manager Lee, Soo Kyung, Chief Secretary of Environment and Pollution Research Group Lee Sang Hoon, Direcot of the Center for Energy Alternatives Inwhan Jung, Professor of Urban Administration, Hyupsung University

4:30 p.m. Meeting; Ph.D. Jungmin Kang: Center for Nuclear Policy Research, Seoul National University

9:00 p.m. Exchange with Mike Green and Bob Manning, visiting Seoul as part of a Council on Foreign Relations delegation

Wednesday, February 28 – Seoul

12:00-1:30 Lunch Hosted by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT)

Kim Sung-Hwan: Director General, North American Affairs Bureau, MOFAT Chun Yung-woo: Assistant to the Minister, MOFAT Noh Kyu-duk: Deputy Director, N. America Division II, MOFAT Cho Byung-jae: Director, North American Division II, MOFAT

3:00 p.m. Chang Sun-Sup: Ambassador, member of KEDO executive board and administrator, Office of planning for LWR Project of the Republic of Korea

6:30 pm. Jay Solomon: Seoul Correspondent, The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal

Thursday, March 1 - Seoul

Lunch: Meeting with select Grand National Party Members

Kwan Yong Park: Chairman, Member of the National Assembly, Republic of Korea, National Development Instutite Se-Hwan Park: Member of the National Assembly, Republic of Korea, General (RET), ROK Army Woong-Kyu Cho: Member of the National Assembly Republic of Korea, The Grand National Party B.Y. Choe: Member of the National Assembly Republic of Korea

3:00 p.m. Meeting with U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission, Evans Revere and senior political officier David Straub

6:30 p.m. Dinner meeting at the home of Steve Bradner

Mr. Lee Dong-bok, former ROK side spokesmen for N-S talks in the early 1970s, former Executive Vice President of Samsung Precision Industries, former Special Assistant to NIS Director (for NK affairs) in early 1990s, national assembly member, ULD (Kim Chong Pil's party), 1996-200. Dr. Chung Jong-wook, professor of political science at Ajou University, former ROK ambassador to China. Mr. Cho Gab-je, Publisher/Managing Editor, The Monthly Chosun, Korea's best and best known investigative reporter Amb. Lee Jang-choon, visiting professor at the Kyounghee University, critic of sunshine policy. Dr. Kim Tae-woo, an advocate of a nuclear option for the ROK Dr. Lee Chung-min, professor at the Yonsei University, critic of sunshine policy and opponent of nuclear option for the ROK. Dr. Chung Sung-hoon, researcher at the Korean Institute for National Unification General M. Dunn, Deputy Chief of Staff, US Forces Korea

Friday, March 2 - Seoul

7:30a.m. Seoul Forum for International Affairs

Lee Hong-ku, Ph.D.: Former Prime Minister and ambassador to US Kim Kyoung-won, Ph.D.: Former ambassador to US, President of SFIA Kim Dal-joong, Ph.D.: Professor, Yonsei University Ahn Byoung-joon, Ph.D.: Professor, Yonsei University Rhee Sang-woo, Ph.D.: Professor, Sogang University Hyun Jong-joo: former ambassador to US

11:00a.m. Lunch interview with Monthly Chosun for April issue

Mr. Cho Gab-je: publisher/managing editor

2:30 p.m. Meeting with Korean journalists arranged by the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy

Kang Tae Ho: Assistant Political Editor, Hankyoreh Shinmun Kim Min Seok: Security Specialist , Joong-ang Ilbo Song Moon Hong: Assistant Editor, Shin Dong-A Monthly Lee Jung-Hoon: Security Specialist, Shin Dong-A Kim Young-Sik: Political Reporter, Dong A Ilbo Boo Hyong Kwon, Political Reporter, Dong-A Ilbo Hoi Byung Mook, Assistant Political Editor, Chosun Ilbo

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Appendix II: NPEC Korea Trip Talking Points

A. The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center Visit to Seoul B. Why Should We Slow the Pace of the Agreed Framework and Offer Non-nuclear Energy Assistance? C. What U.S. and International Rules Apply to the KEDO Reactors?

D. Questions and Answers on North Korea's Electrical Grid and the KEDO Reactors E. The KEDO Reactors and Their Production of Plutonium for Nuclear Weapons

A. The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center Visit to Seoul

1. What is the purpose of your visit?

Our purpose is to exchange views on the future of the Agreed Framework with experts from South Korea. In particular, we would like to discuss the technical and legal difficulties of constructing the two promised nuclear power reactors for North Korea, as well as some of the security issues that would arise if the reactors were to operate. We are also interested in exchanging views on alternative ways of meeting the objectives of the Agreed Framework by supplying conventional power rather than nuclear reactors.

2. Do you represent the Bush Administration?

No. This trip is sponsored entirely by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a nonprofit educational organization that is funded by nonpartisan, charitable foundations. We have, however, informed the new administration’s Defense and State Transition Team staff on our visit plans.

3. Is the State Department or U.S. embassy sponsoring your visit?

No. We are visiting as private citizens. We have, of course, informed the U.S. embassy in advance of our visit plans, as well as Assistant Secretary of State Robert Einhorn and Ambassador Charles Kartman. We have also described our visit to KEDO director Desaix Andersen and the Korean embassy in Washington.

4. Are you proposing an alternative to the Agreed Framework?

No. We view our discussions and proposals as falling entirely within the context of the Agreed Framework. We think there are ways to improve the result for both sides.

5. Do you have a view on South Korea's Sunshine policy?

No. We do not have a view on intra Korean issues and are very much focused on the U.S.-DPRK Agreed Framework. At the same time, we believe the difficulties that the U.S. and South Korea are likely to encounter in continuing to build the two reactors for North Korea should be of interest to everyone concerned with the future of the relationship between the two Koreas.

6. Are you excluding the possible completion of the two LWRs in North Korea?

No. If North Korea fully meets all the necessary legal and technical safety requirements and opens itself to full International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, then we expect the reactors will be completed. However, in view of the likely futures, we see a range of possibilities including non-nuclear alternatives to one or both reactors. These alternatives would have many advantages, from the point of view of security and economics, not least to North Korea.

7. What qualifies you to discuss these issues?

Dr. Gilinsky and Mr. Sokolski have focused on the technical and legal issues regarding the nuclear provisions of the Agreed Framework for the last 7 years.

Dr. Gilinsky was a commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan. Mr. Sokolski served as Deputy for Nonproliferation Policy under Secretary of Defense Cheney in the previous Bush administration.

Back to Appendix II

B. Why Should We Slow the Pace of the Agreed Framework and Offer Non-nuclear Energy Assistance?

1. What are the dangers of maintaining the current pace of KEDO reactor construction?

Given the lead time (at least three years) for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to complete its full inspection of North Korea's nuclear activities--as required by the Agreed Framework--the reactor project is already headed for a future slowdown because of North Korean current lack of cooperation with the IAEA. If we ignore the obvious implications of the North's failure to cooperate with the IAEA, and continue construction, we will end up with a largely completed plant, waiting for the completion of IAEA inspection. The difference with the present situation will be that the United States will be faced with tremendous pressures, not least from its allies, to accept watered down North Korean compliance. But until we are absolutely certain the DPRK is out of the bomb business, we should not be handing over LWRs (that can make twice as much nuclear explosive material as we feared the North would make in its indigenous reactors!).

2. But isn't North Korea still in compliance with the Agreed Framework?

Technically, yes. However, given the minimum of three years IAEA officials estimate it will take them to complete a full inspection of North Korea--even with Pyongyang's full cooperation--North Korea needs to cooperate fully with the IAEA now to be eligible to receive key U.S. nuclear components when they are needed by the construction schedule. For example, North Korea needs to give the IAEA full, immediate access to its nuclear operating records and nuclear sites. North Korea continues to refuse to cooperate on this and other IAEA-related matters.

3. What should be done to avoid the crisis of having a nearly completed reactor and a still noncompliant North Korea?

We should pace the construction of the reactors more closely to North Korean cooperation with IAEA efforts to conduct a full inspection.

4. Wouldn't this slow the project and delay when North Korea would receive electricity?

Yes, but it is North Korea's non-cooperation with the IAEA, not KEDO, that is causing the delay. In any case, they are safer, quicker, less dangerous ways of supplying electricity to the North. These methods include upgrading the North Korean electric grid, refurbishing their power plants, building new, smaller power plants, and integrating North Korea's grid with that of South Korea. Such assistance would be extremely useful to the North. We should not, however, allow it to circumvent the nonproliferation conditions of the Agreed Framework. On the completion of an agreed level of energy assistance, we should insist that North Korea comply with at least one of the nonproliferation conditions of the Agreed Framework. An obvious candidate condition is sending the existing spent

fuel out of the country. Taking this non-nuclear approach has the advantage of testing Pyongyang's good will now by offering them useful energy aid that cannot be put to use for nuclear bombs. It also gives them more time to comply with the Agreed Framework's nonproliferation conditions while it makes clear they are the ones holding up nuclear construction. Once several hundred megawatts of non-nuclear electrical capacity has been added in this manner, the rationale for continued heavy fuel oil assistance would disappear. Furthermore, the additional conventional capacity provided could reasonably be subtracted from the amount of nuclear capacity KEDO is obligated to provide if the North meets the Agreed Framework's nonproliferation conditions.

Back to Appendix II

C. What U.S. and International Rules Apply to the KEDO Reactors?

1. Why does U.S. law block completing the KEDO reactors?

Completion of the KEDO reactors, as they are currently designed, depends on the export of key U.S. nuclear components and technology. These nuclear items are controlled by U.S. nonproliferation export laws. The most important of these is the Atomic Energy Act of l954. Under this law, the licensed export of key U.S. nuclear components is prohibited to any nation that has terminated or abrogated International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. This is what North Korea did in 1992. The law also prohibits the export of such nuclear items to nations that have tried to acquire nuclear weapons usable plutonium or uranium for military purposes. Again, North Korea has done. Beyond these prohibitions, the law requires that the United States have a formal nuclear cooperative agreement with any nation receiving U.S. nuclear exports. Such nuclear cooperative agreements are negotiated by the Executive and presented to Congress for possible amendment or rejection. In the past, Congress has held up such agreements when it believed they had been struck with a nation that had violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Finally, in 1999, Congress passed a law prohibiting the export of U.S. nuclear goods to North Korea until the president certifies North Korea is in full compliance with its IAEA safeguards obligations and has no covert nuclear weapons-related activities.

2. What must North Korea do to satisfy the requirements of the Intenational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)?

Pyongyang must work with the IAEA to verify the accuracy of its declaration on what nuclear materials it holds, which it made to the IAEA back in the early 1990s. In addition to allowing the IAEA full access to all of North Korean nuclear operating records, Pyongyang must open all of its nuclear facilities to IAEA on-site inspections. IAEA officials estimate that the agency will need at least three years after it gains such access to determine whether or not North Korea has accounted for all of its past plutonium production. Beyond this, North Korea must convince the IAEA that it has no covert nuclear facilities.

3. If North Korea satisfies the IAEA`s requirements, will it satisfy U.S. law?

Being in compliance with IAEA safeguards obligations meets only one of several requirements contained in U.S. law. In addition, U.S. law requires that no U.S. nuclear export be made to non-nuclear weapons states that have either violated

or abrogated IAEA safeguards or engaged in nuclear weapons-related activities North Korea has done both.

4. Are there other U.S. and international restrictions relevant to KEDO completing the reactors?

There are at least three. The first, a U.S. Department of Energy regulation, prohibits the export of U.S. nuclear know-how (e.g., nuclear reactor design information or other nuclear technology) that might help North Korea design or manufacture key U.S. nuclear components or reactor fuel. This restriction is significant since at some point such nuclear know-how must be passed on to North Korea`s nuclear regulators and operators to assure the safe operation of the KEDO reactors. The second restriction comes from a 1999 House vote prohibiting the U.S. government from indemnifying U.S. firms participating in the KEDO project against liability for any nuclear accident that might occur at the North Korean reactor site. Although the House vote did not become law, it forced the White House to drop plans to provide such indemnification. This, in turn, prompted General Electric, the company that was to provide the steam generators for the reactors, to drop out of the project. It is unclear what impact this House vote will have on other U.S. firms interested in participating in the KEDO project, but the new administration is unlikely to ignore the House`s wishes. Finally, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), to which North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and the United States are all parties, prohibits any non-nuclear weapons state from acquiring the means to make nuclear weapons and all other parties from helping such states acquire such capabilities. This is likely to be an issue in Congressional debate over nuclear cooperation with North Korea.

5. Can`t the president of the United States waive these restrictions?

Yes, in theory, but in practice he would have to pay a very high political price for doing so. In North Korea`s case, neither the previous nor present administrations has supported taking such action.

Back to Appendix II

D. Questions and Answers on North Korea’s Electrical Grid and the KEDO Reactors

1. You say that the planned KEDO reactors cannot operate on North Korea’s electrical grid without sacrificing economics and safety. To start with, what is an electrical grid?

An electrical grid is a collection of electrical power plants and the electrical transmission system—the high voltage wires connecting them to each other and to those using the electricity.

2. What are the requirements for assuring a reliable grid?

To start, the amount of electric power produced must be in precise balance – at all times – with the electric power consumed. If any one plant suddenly stops generating power, the other power plants must make up the loss quickly. Otherwise, the imbalance could put the electrical grid out of service. To avoid such catastrophic failure it is essential to that no individual power plant produce more than a small proportion of the total power connected to the grid (certainly no more than one-tenth of the total, and preferably much less). Unfortunately, the

KEDO reactors are so large in relation to North Korea’s electrical output that this requirement is cannot be met..

3. Is a reliable electrical grid also critical to the safe operation of the proposed KEDO reactors?

Yes. For this reason, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires all U.S. nuclear plants to be connected to a reliable grid. This connection assures power for the reactor’s safety equipment in the event the plant’s own emergency diesel generators fail. (In the event of an accident this safety equipment must work to prevent meltdowns such as at Three Mile Island, or worse.) Because there is no reliable North Korean grid, the 1,000 megawatt KEDO reactors could never be licensed under U.S. safety requirements. All of this negatively affects the insurability of the reactors against accidents.

4. Can’t these problems be solved by simply upgrading North Korea’s electrical transmission system?

No, in addition to improving the electrical transmission lines, which would be useful, Pyongyang would still have to deal with the imbalance between the size of the KEDO reactors and the generating capacity of the North Korean grid. North Korea could build many more conventional power plants, producing much more electricity than the two proposed reactors. In that event, though, the reactors’ construction would be no longer necessary for supplying North Korea with additional electricity. .

5. How is that South Korea can use large nuclear power plants?

The South’s electrical power production is about 10 times that of North Korea. Its much larger grid can cushion the impact of a sudden shutdown of any one plant and can provide reliable external power to a nuclear unit in an emergency.

6. Can’t the KEDO plants be tied to the South Korea electrical grid to solve the problems of the North’s weak grid?

From a purely technical view, the answer is yes, but it would be difficult. One or more transmission lines from the KEDO plants to the South would be needed. These upgrades could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, the South’s grid would have to be protected from instabilities in this supply. This would probably involve at least some South Korean control over the electrical supply in the North.

7. Wasn’t all this thought through when the KEDO project was launched in l994?

Apparently not.

Back to Appendix II

E. The KEDOReactors and Their Production of Plutonium for Nuclear Weapons

1. Do we have to worry that the KEDO reactors will produce plutonium for nuclear weapons? Yes. The KEDO light water reactors (LWRs) can produce about twice as much

weapons usable plutonium as the indigenous reactors the North Koreans had operating or under construction in 1994.

2. How can that be? Aren’t the KEDO reactors much more "proliferation resistant" than the reactors they are replacing?

It is true that light water reactors (LWRs) make less plutonium per megawatt than the graphite reactors North Korea operated and had under construction in l994. This and whatever other anti-proliferation advantages these reactors might have, however, are more than overwhelmed by the KEDO reactors’ size. In fact, the KEDO reactors will produce nearly ten times the power of all the reactors North Korea was planning to build (and nearly 400 times that of the single reactor North Korea had operating in l994). As a result, they will produce much more plutonium that can be made into nuclear weapons than the reactors they will be replacing.

3. But isn’t the plutonium from KEDO power reactors "reactor grade plutonium" and, therefore, unusable for bombs?

No, reactor-grade plutonium is quite usable to make nuclear weapons of any yield. Also, it is important to understand that the KEDO reactors also can and will produce "weapons grade plutonium (even when operated on normal commercial fashion). Thus, at the time of the first scheduled refueling of the first reactor, the reactor’s fuel will contain over 300 kilograms of essentially "weapons grade" plutonium. That’s enough for about 60 nuclear warhead. What more would the North Koreans need if they wanted bombs?

4. Was this understood at the time of the Agreed Framework agreement?

Apparently not.

5. Shouldn’t the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) be able to prevent the diversion of any plutonium the KEDO reactors might produce?

No. IAEA safeguards can only reasonably be counted on to detect such diversions. What they cannot be counted on to do is prevent them if North Korea chooses – as it did in l992 – to expel IAEA inspectors from its country. In this case, North Korea could have access to many hundreds of bombs worth of weapons usable plutonium.

6. Yes, but isn’t it the case that North Korea lacks the capacity to reprocess spent light water reactor fuel to extract the plutonium?

North Korea would have to modify its existing reprocessing plant to extract plutonium from KEDO reactor spent fuel. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Pyongyang could not do this, or build a covert facility.

Back to Appendix II

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Appendices III and IV: Text of the Agreed Framework and KEDO Supply Agreement

The Text of the Agreed Framework and the KEDO Supply Agreement can be accessed on the KEDO website at the following URLs:

Agreed Framework:

KEDO Supply Agreement:

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founded in 1994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues. NPEC educates policymakers, journalists,
and university professors about proliferation threats and possible new policies and measures to meet them.
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