3,000 experts run NK nuclear program
By Lee Tae-hoon
North Korea employees some 3,000 experts in pursuit of becoming a nuclear power, a nuclear expert said Wednesday. He added that the reclusive nation would have spent at least $6.58 billion or several years’ worth of food supplies for its impoverished people.
“North Korea has some 3,000 nuclear-related experts,” he said on condition of anonymity.
North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan also mentioned the figure during talks with South Korean negotiators over food aid in return for suspending its nuclear program, according to a defense source.
“Kim told us that the South should compensate for the layoff of the North’s 3,000 engineers working at nuclear facilities,” the source said.
The money spent on the development and operation of the nuclear program could have been used to purchase 19.4 million tons of corn from China, an amount that matches 8 years of the North’s supplies to its population.
The nuclear expert said the North is believed to have spent $2.01 billion for the construction of nuclear facilities, such as uranium mining and refining plants, its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon and enrichment facilities.
An additional $310 million likely went to nuclear research, $1.34 billion to weaponize nuclear technology and $200 million for nuclear testing. Operation of its plutonium- and uranium-based programs set the regime back $2.72 billion, he said.
The figures are based on the assumption that the communist country had no difficulty in obtaining related technology and resources.
“North Korea would have spent much more money if it had to secretly push the nuclear development program through the black market for the acquiring of related technology, resources and concealment of facilities,” he said.
The nuclear expert said the North is believed to have some 40kg of plutonium, enough to produce at least six nuclear bombs.
However, he declined to confirm reports that the North has about 100 to 120 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, which would be enough for it to make three to six additional bombs
Pyongyang is under increasing pressure over its program amid concerns it could soon conduct a third nuclear test – a move that would follow its long-range rocket launch last month.
New commercial satellite imagery shows preparations for the test are underway at Pungye-ri, the site of tests in 2006 and 2009. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization’s is reportedly monitoring the North for signs of a test.
Experts say a nuclear test by the North would be detectable by seismic monitoring, the detection of byproducts of fission or explosive material, U.S. spy planes and satellites, or other specialized technology.
Seoul, Washington and other players have harshly criticized Pyongyang for its missile and nuclear tests at the expense of its people.
Such criticism comes after decades of failed diplomacy over denuclearization and the Stalinist State’s apparent intent to cling to its greatest claim to deterrence.
On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department underscored the importance of North Korean human rights.
"Promoting human rights is a key component of our policy toward North Korea, and how the DPRK addresses human rights will have a significant impact on the prospects for closer U.S.-DPRK ties,” it said in a press release.
The North said its April 13 rocket launch meant to put a satellite into orbit, but the international community condemned the move as ballistic missile test.
Many are concerned that continued missile and nuclear tests edge Pyongyang closer to possessing long-range missiles with nuclear capability.
Analysts say the North is motivated to continue its provocative ways in a bid to burnish the military credentials of its inexperienced leader Kim Jong-un, who took power following the death of his father Kim Jong-il in December last year.