Jeffrey LewisNORKs Miss Deadline, Slow Disablement

As expected, North Korea missed the deadline for “providing a complete and correct declaration of its nuclear programs.”

I say “as expected” in part because this is what Chris Hill told Congress in a closed briefing, according to Chris Nelson, and what South Korea’s Foreign Minister has said publicly.

At issue, as we have long worried, is what US officials now call the “Uranium Enrichment Program” or UEP. North Korea, according to diplomatic sources in Seoul, “remains unchanged in its denial of the existence of a UEP” — notwithstanding what Glenn Kessler reported to be evidence of uranium contamination on smelted tubing. (David Albright points to the possibility of contamination from other sources; His background piece on the Nork tubes is the best.)

The State Department also claims that North Korea is “slowing down the process of disablement.”

The slowing of disablement is annoying, but as far as I can tell it isn’t a huge problem — yet. Kyodo News quotes a diplomatic source close to the matter saying that the Norks are “reducing the shifts of workers carrying out disablement steps at its nuclear facilities to slow the pace of work there.”

This refers, I would guess, to the removal of the fuel rods from the 5 MWe reactor at Yongbyon. (Kyodo notes that 2 of the 3 facilities have been disabled). North Korea could not physically discharge the fuel by December 31 because the cooling pond was not ready to receive the spent fuel rods until early December — which is why Hill told Congress that this step would extend beyond December 31.

Once the pond was ready, North Korea was committed to discharging the fuel within 100 days, completing disablement by Mid-March. There was, I believe, some hope that North Korea could cut that in half with extra shifts.

No dice, I guess.

Update: This Reuters story by Arshad Mohammed and Sue Pleming is very, very good.

Comments

  1. abcd (History)

    Jeffrey: do you think its plausible the North is holding back from providing the declaration until its facilities have been completely disabled – a last ditch bargaining chip while it still has some leverage – or do you think its more because Pyongyang is still fighting off accusations of the enrichment efforts?

    Or, is this just North Korea being simply that…North Korea.

  2. Allen Thomson

    What I’m curious about is how long various right-wing factions in the US — Rep. Hoekstra to name a name — are going to hold off if the Norks look like (gasp!) they’re not being forthcoming. For the moment, it seems the right has agreed to give the Administration a chance to make the six-party process work. But if it starts to look like things have broken down or even seriously stalled, they’re going to be heard from. C.f. and e.g., a WSJ editorial a couple of days ago.

  3. Allen Thomson

    > C.f.

    Sorry, my long-gone two years of Latin broke down itself.

    One word, not two: cf.

  4. Rwendland (History)

    Hope the planning of what to do with the spent fuel is well advanced, and we are helping create a better pool chemistry environment. Magnox type fuel is best pool stored less than 2 years, and even dry canning is probably only good for less than 5 years. We don’t want to end up with the awful slurry mess the UK Sellafield plant has in one of its old Magnox fuel pools, or have to build a special temporary dry store for this last fuel load. The North Koreans usually reprocessed after a few months pool storage to avoid the Magnox fuel corrosion problem.

    Exporting the spent fuel will be difficult. I’d have thought by far the best technical solution would be to let the North Koreans reprocess this last fuel load, and export the product – but sadly I suspect this is politically impossible for the U.S.

    Not sure which other reprocessing plants could tackle this Magnox/uranium metal fuel job. The rail links to China or Russia might be the easiest route out for unreprocessed spent fuel. UK’s Magnox fuel reprocessing plant will be closed in 2012, so little time to spare if we want to use that.

  5. Haninah (History)

    In the Reuters stories, I assume that the reference to “plutonium fuel rods” is a typo? Surely they mean uranium…

  6. Arch (History)

    What’s that song? “Money?” Pink Floyd, Beatles, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Kim Jong-Il all sing it. The IAEA and everybody else will be jerked around as long as possible. The pattern is there: what’s the benefit of complying? All the Libyans have to show for it, from an Americo-centric perspective, is a tour of the White House for their foreign minister…but then, they don’t need the money, do they?

  7. Allen Thomson

    FWIW, here’s what the Norkean Foreign Ministry has to say about the lapse:

    http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2008/200801/news01/05.htm#1

    DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman on Issue of Implementation of October 3
    Agreement

    Pyongyang, January 4 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry
    of the DPRK released the following statement Friday as regards the
    delay in the implementation of the October 3 agreement made at the
    six-party talks:

    It is beyond Dec. 31, 2007, the deadline set in the Oct. 3
    agreement.

    It is regrettable that points agreed there remain unimplemented
    except the disablement of the DPRK’s nuclear facilities.

    The disablement started early in November last year and all the
    operations were completed within the “technologically possible scope”
    as of Dec. 31.

    At present, the unloading of spent fuel rods scheduled to be
    completed in about 100 days is underway as the last process.

    However, the delivery of heavy fuel oil and energy-related
    equipment and materials to the DPRK, commitments of other participating
    nations, has not been done even 50 per cent.

    The schedule for the monthly delivery of heavy fuel oil as well as
    the delivery of energy-related equipment and materials and relevant
    technical processes are being steadily delayed.

    The U.S. has not honored its commitments to cross the DPRK off the
    list of “sponsors of terrorism” and stop applying the “Trading with the
    Enemy Act” against it.

    Looking back on what has been done, one may say that the DPRK is
    going ahead of others in fulfilling its commitment.

    As far as the nuclear declaration on which wrong opinion is being
    built up by some quarters is concerned, the DPRK has done what it
    should do.

    The DPRK worked out a report on the nuclear declaration in November
    last year and notified the U.S. side of its contents.

    It had a sufficient consultation with the U.S. side after receiving
    a request from it to have further discussion on the contents of the
    report.

    When the U.S. side raised “suspicion” about uranium enrichment, the
    DPRK allowed it to visit some military facilities in which imported
    aluminum tubes were used as an exception and offered its samples as
    requested by it, clarifying with sincerity that the controversial
    aluminum tubes had nothing to do with the uranium enrichment.

    As far as the fiction about nuclear cooperation with Syria is
    concerned, the DPRK stipulated in the October 3 agreement that “it does
    not transfer nuclear weapons, technology and knowledge”. This is our
    answer to this question.

    This was also done in line with the prior discussion with the U.S.
    side.

    All facts go to clearly show what is the reason behind the delayed
    process of the implementation of the October 3 agreement.

    Consistent in all agreements reached at the six-party talks
    including the September 19 joint statement is the principle of “action
    for action”.

    Now that other participating nations delay the fulfillment of their
    commitments, the DPRK is compelled to adjust the tempo of the
    disablement of some nuclear facilities on the principle of “action for
    action.”

    The DPRK still hopes that the October 3 agreement can be smoothly
    implemented should all the participating nations make concerted sincere
    efforts on the principle of simultaneous action.

  8. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Dear Rwendland:

    It turns out that corrosion of the fuel rods was the hang-up.

    The delay in removing the control rods was a result of the time it took to repair the water treatment plant and get the water chemistry right.

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