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HOME > REGIONS > Asia, Pacific Rim      
Transfer of Nuclear Technology to North Korea

A letter to The Honorable Spencer Abraham, The Secretary of Energy, from NPEC Executive Director Henry Sokolski.

Apr 18, 2002
AUTHOR: Henry Sokolski
Letter to Energ Sec on North Korea (PDF) 14.90 KB

The Honorable Spencer Abraham
The Secretary of Energy U.S. Department of Energy
Forrestal Building
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20585

18 April, 2002

Dear Secretary Abraham:

A year ago, my center wrote asking you what nuclear technology the Department of Energy was contemplating transferring to the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (DPRK) to help in the construction, licensing, and operation of two promised U.S.-designed light water nuclear power reactors. On May 21, 2001, you wrote that you had authorized the transfer to DPRK entities of U.S. nuclear technology "necessary for the licensing and safe operation of the reactors" but had specifically excluded "technology enabling design or manufacture of nuclear components or fuel."

In light of the events of September 11th and revelations that Al Qeada terrorists considered sabotaging U.S. and European nuclear power stations and planned to acquire nuclear weapons, other U.S. nuclear agencies have since concluded that sensitive nuclear technology now also includes information relating to reactor licensing, safety and operations training. In specific, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently announced restrictions on U.S. citizens' access to preliminary safety analyses of U.S. reactors that the NRC has on file. The NRC's concern is that in the wrong hands, this information could help terrorists to develop nuclear weapons production capabilities or to attack large nuclear power stations. The later would risk national disruption of electrical power production and the widespread release of radiation.

Presumably, this is why the U.S. continues to oppose Russia's operations and safety training of Iranian nuclear operators and why Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently voiced concerns about the vulnerability of U.S. nuclear plants to terrorist attack. At the very least, it appears that we are setting off alarms for the Russians that we ourselves are not attending to in the case of North Korea. Certainly, other countries are concerned about the vulnerability of their nuclear power systems: Recently, South Korea, for example, announced plans to deploy air defenses around several of its nuclear reactors.

As you noted in your letter of May 21, 2001, you approved further nuclear transfers to the DPRK on May 3, 2001 after consulting with the Department of State "in light of experience and the circumstances at the time." Since then, the terrorist developments noted above have transpired, the DPRK has failed to respond to repeated requests that it honor its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations, and President Bush refused to find the DPRK in compliance with the terms of the Agreed Framework.

How do you view these new conditions? Beyond limiting U.S.- DPRK nuclear technology transfer only to those "necessary for the licensing and safe operation of the reactors," what reviews or measures has the Department of Energy undertaken to assure that future U.S. nuclear technology transfers will not increase the vulnerability of U.S. and allied reactors to nuclear sabotage or increase North Korea's ability to execute a covert nuclear weapons program? Has the Department of Energy made any assessment of what risks the U.S. has already taken by transferring the nuclear technology it already has transferred for the "licensing and safe operation of the reactors"? Has the Department of Energy shared detailed information about what specific nuclear know-how it has already transferred to either the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization or to DPRK entities? Is the Department of Energy willing to share this information with the American public? Under what circumstances might the Department of Energy insist on restricting such transfers in the future?

Certainly, the answers to these questions bear directly on future implementation of the l994 Agreed Framework. More important, they are directly relevant to what should be done to assure the future security of U.S. and allied nuclear power systems. Given my center's continuing interest in the KEDO project and the public's concern with the national security issues related to these questions, your department's position on these issues is of signal importance. I look forward to learning what those views are.


Henry Sokolski
Executive Director

*Similar letters were sent to the Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. The following people were copied.

cc: Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Assistant to the President Homeland Security Tom Ridge, Senator Joseph Lieberman, Senator Fred Thompson, Senator Joseph Biden, Senator Jesse Helms, Congressman Henry Hyde, Congressman Christopher Cox, Congressman Edward Markey.

The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), is a 501 (c)3 nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization
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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