North Korea has shown to an American nuclear scientist uranium enrichment facilities in Yongbyon with hundreds of centrifuges being run. The facilities were refined enough to stun Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear expert. Pyongyang aims to build nuclear weapons by using enriched uranium to solidify its status as a nuclear power.
The Norths uranium enrichment grew into a public issue after the U.S. raised suspicion in October 2002. Since then, Pyongyang has obtained a small amount of centrifuge and a blueprint from Pakistan in the 1990s and imported from Russia high-strength aluminum pipes that could be used to make 1,000 centrifuges. The North had denied suspicions over its uranium enrichment but in June last year, it declared its initiation of an enrichment process through a Foreign Ministry statement. It claimed success just three months after the declaration. Pyongyang told Hecker that it possesses 2,000 centrifuges. While the international community remained half in doubt, the North became capable of producing two 20-kilogram-grade nuclear weapons per year.
Uranium bombs have simpler detonation devices than plutonium bombs, so the manufacture of nuclear weapons is possible without conducting high explosive tests. As was the case with India and Pakistan, countries possessing plutonium nuclear bombs get to develop uranium bombs without exception. If the world allows the North to enrich uranium, the communist country could soon possess as many as nuclear weapons as it wants. This will pose a serious threat to Northeast Asia and other regions, let alone South Korea. It is also a direct challenge to U.S. President Barack Obamas policy of a nuclear-free world.
North Korea created this situation by conducting plutonium nuclear tests in 2006 and last year while developing uranium-based nuclear weapons at the same time. The six-party nuclear talks have been suspended for the past two years. China, the host of the dialogue, is mainly responsible for driving the situation to this point. So perhaps it is worth considering inviting the European Union and Australia to the six-party talks to increase pressure on the North and replacing China as host.
Through its invitation of an American expert to inspect its nuclear facilities, Pyongyang seems intent to exploit the nuclear card for its third-generation power succession. The world can deter the Norths nuclear ambition only by making it clear that Pyongyangs continued action will strengthen international sanctions to threaten the communist regimes power. South Korea should work together with the international community to send a strong signal to the Norths leadership and bring about disadvantages to Pyongyang.