It Gets Awfully Cold in North Korea
Jude Wanniski
February 24, 2003


Memo To: James Brooke, NYTimes foreign correspondent
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Your Sunday dispatch from Onjung-Ri, North Korea

I’ve been waiting for several months for the major news media to point out that North Korea has been “acting up” since last summer because it gets darned cold in the winter without electricity or fuel oil. It may be your editors put you on to the story because Secretary of State Colin Powell two weeks ago mentioned on one of the talk shows that Pyongyang says it is only “interested in electricity.” No matter, as your piece, “North Korea’s Need for Electricity Fuels Its Nuclear Ambitions,” does a good job in explaining how NK's energy crisis is at the heart of the present international crisis. I only wish Colin Powell would explain all this to President Bush, who still seems to think there are evil leaders in Pyongyang who want to fire a nuke in our general direction. The point you made that a U.S. city of one million consumes more power than what is available to the 22 million people of North Korea is reason enough for North Korea to want to build nuclear power plants, not nuclear weapons plants.

Back in 1994, they had one little plutonium plant cooking and two larger ones one the drawing board. We almost went to war with them when there were rumors they were not accounting for spent plutonium coming out of their little plant. We made a deal with them. They agreed to close down the little power plant and not work on the next two. We agreed to help them get financing for two light-water power reactors that would use uranium and be supervised by the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA), which had already been supervising the little plutonium plant. In the interim, we agreed to supply them with enough oil to take the household chill off the winters.

I have a small quibble with your dispatch on this point. You do note that the old deal collapsed "after North Korean officials were said to have admitted to an American envoy that they were cheating on the accord and pursuing a second secret nuclear weapons program." Yes, you qualified this report by saying the NK officials "were said to have admitted," but after several months available to the press corps, it should be clear NK never admitted any such thing and was never "pursuing a second secret" nuke program. They were mining their own uranium to be used as fuel for the light-water reactors we were going to build for them. I don’t even know for sure that this was any surprise to our nuke experts. Or is this point still murky?

What I mean to say is that the Bush administration last summer cut off the flow of fuel oil to North Korea without any evidence that North Korea was cheating on the deal and working on a nuke weapons program. All that accomplished was to put 22 million people in a deep freeze this winter. The nitwits at the Defense Policy Board could have let Colin Powell work all this out, but why use diplomacy when we have all the power we need to blow North Korea to smithereens – knowing they do not have any nukes, did not intend to have any, and are simply miffed because Uncle Sam cut off their flow of fuel.

My friend Dr. Gordon Prather, a nuke physicist who worked on nuke weapons design at Los Alamos in the 1960s and early 1970s, tells me it is extremely unlikely NK has any nukes, as they would need a tested design for a plutonium implosion nuke, and about the only way they could get one is from Los Alamos. Maybe you should give him a holler. If you do, you will be the first Timesman to do so, although I have recommended him to a dozen editors and reporters. If you are not a nuclear weapons expert, you should be able to consult one when these tricky issues come up.

Jan 7 2003
Memo on the Margin: The Nuke World Order

Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Gordon Prather on North Korea

Dr. Prather, our favorite nuclear physicist who once designed nuke weapons at Sandia and Lawrence Livermore, does not believe North Korea possesses any nuclear weapons at the moment and that they may not be intending to develop them. The major media continues to report that Pyongyang has admitted it is now trying to develop nukes, but Prather says that is an inference, not a fact. It is still possible that the uranium-enrichment plant that we discovered by satellite last year is being used to produce nuclear fuel for the two light-water power reactors that the U.S. promised to have built for them in exchange for their closing down the Soviet power reactors they were constructing back then. The two nukes the CIA says the North Koreans may possess are also inferences, says Prather, based on a small amount of plutonium that could not be accounted for in 1985 when North Korea signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and became subject to the inspections of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Prather says it is implausible to him that North Korea has the expertise or the tested weapons design to produce a plutonium-implosion bomb, as such a bomb could not be deployed without testing. Of course, he says if they set their minds to it, they could do so in the future as they take their Soviet plants out of mothballs. In order to settle things back down and preserve the nuclear world order where almost all nations agree to the provisions of NPT and inspections by the IAEA, he thinks a fix is in order to the protocols, one that would make it impossible for countries like North Korea to stray from their agreements in the future. His column appeared January 4 at the website of WorldNetDaily, for which he writes weekly.

The nuke world order

By Gordon Prather
© 2003

Most Americans expect a New World Order especially an American Hegemony to prevent their being nuked in their jammies. That means keeping nukes out of the hands of terrorists. An American Hegemony can't do that, but, an International Atomic Energy Agency with teeth, can.

Of course, al-Qaida might get nukes from a nation-state already possessing them, like Pakistan, and the IAEA can't prevent that. But the IAEA can prevent the export of nuke-materials from those Pakistani facilities already subject to an IAEA Safeguards Agreement. And the U.N. Security Council by enforcing IAEA Safeguards Agreements can prevent rogue states like North Korea from developing nukes for themselves or producing nuke-materials for export.

If al-Qaida did acquire a few hundred pounds of highly-enriched uranium they could conceivably build their own simple "gun-type" nuke, like the 9,700-lb. "Little Boy" we dropped on Hiroshima, untested.

But, the weapons-useable plutonium that North Korea has produced would be of no use to a terrorist. No one can make a gun-type nuke with plutonium. It has to be an "implosion-type" nuke, like the 10,800-lb. "Fat Man" we dropped on Nagasaki. And the design has to be tested.

The IAEA reports that the Iraqis already had in 1990 an untested implosion-type nuke design, and the nukes the Pakistanis tested in 1998 were implosion-type nukes. Could the North Koreans use the Iraqi or Pakistani design to make plutonium-implosion nukes, for themselves or for sale to the highest bidder?

No, the Pakistani nukes were HEU-implosion weapons as was the untested Iraqi design. You can't just substitute plutonium for HEU in a nuke design.

The big unanswered question about the Iraqi nuke program is where they got their HEU-implosion nuke design. From the Soviet Union? And where did the Pakistanis get their much more sophisticated HEU-implosion design? From China?

But, why would either China or the Soviets bother to design and test HEU-implosion nukes? If you want small, high-yield, deliverable nukes, you go with plutonium, as we have done, not HEU.

In 1992, North Korea, a non-nuke signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, voluntarily entered into a Safeguards Agreement, subjecting its plutonium-producing reactors and related facilities to the IAEA-NPT inspection regime.

However, in mid-1994 because of a dispute about a possible diversion of 10 percent or so of the plutonium produced North Korea attempted to unilaterally abrogate the Safeguards Agreement. Enter Jimmy the Peacemaker with the multibillion dollar Clinton-Carter bribe the Agreed Framework to "freeze" the operation and construction of Safeguarded facilities.

So, for eight years, North Korean plutonium-producing reactors, related facilities and enough un-separated plutonium to make a dozen nukes have been 'frozen', under IAEA padlock and seal. How come? Perhaps the Koreans didn't have a tested plutonium-implosion nuke design. Perhaps there wasn't a market for their nuke-useable plutonium.

But, ominously, the Pakistanis secretly reported to us a couple of years ago that they had been supplying uranium enrichment equipment and technical assistance to the Koreans. The Koreans were obligated to report that to us under the terms of the Agreed Framework and to the IAEA under the terms of the Safeguards Agreement. But they didn't.

Last fall, we finally accused the Koreans of secretly enriching uranium. To our surprise, they admitted it, and almost immediately, announced they were unilaterally abrogating the Agreed Framework and their Safeguards Agreement and were banishing IAEA inspectors from North Korea.

Why take such a provocative step and why take it now? So their HEU facilities wouldn't become subject to IAEA inspections? Have they got a tested HEU-implosion design? Are they that near to producing enough HEU to make nukes?

On Jan. 6, the IAEA Board of Governors will meet in emergency session to discuss the North Korean situation, thence to make recommendations to the U.N. Security Council.

There is little doubt that if the Security Council lets North Korea get away with unilaterally abrogating a Safeguards Agreement, the IAEA-NPT regime will be rendered toothless.

If we are to have a New World Order that prevents terrorists from getting their hands on nukes we must have an IAEA with teeth. The Security Council must pass a resolution requiring the North Koreans to fully declare all their nuke-related facilities and activities and to immediately subject them to the full-scope Safeguards Agreement they have entered into. If North Korea refuses to comply, the Security Council must authorize the "use of all necessary means" by member states.