Rocket Failure… Not the Whole Story!
Today, North Korea attempted to launch an earth orbiting satellite just the day after Kim Jung-un was named Supreme Leader by the Korean Worker’s Party. It failed miserably in less than two minutes.
But that is only the first ignominious chapter of an unfolding North Korean melodrama. Its all part of the centennial celebration of the birth of Kim Il-sung. He is thought of as a deity by North Koreans.
The rocket test is believed by the west to be a thinly veiled test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
There are two other chapters of this story yet to play out:
- A 3rd plutonium bomb detonation
- Completion of a light water nuclear reactor
A 3rd Plutonium Bomb Test?
South Korea believes a North Korean nuclear bomb test detonation is imminent.
It will take place on the other side of the country at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site possibly within days or weeks. They have identified soil excavation similar to those seen before North Korea’s two previous nuke tests.
According to a National Academy of Engineering report, North Korea currently has enough plutonium for four to eight bombs:
“North Korea’s Choice: Bombs over Electricity“
– Heckler/Lee/Braun, National Academy of Engineering, Summer 2010
This excellent article provides extensive background on North Korea’s nuclear program. Its a great read. It explains the very complex mix of internal and external politics that has motivated North Korea’s nuclear program for decades.
The New Light Water Reactor Under Construction
The third piece of North Korea’s unfolding nuclear melodrama is the rapid construction of a new light water nuclear reactor(LWR). It is being built next to the now defunct 5MW graphite reactor where North Korea produced the plutonium for all their existing nuclear weapons.
Western experts did not believe North Korea was capable of building a LWR and are shocked at their rapid progress.
North Korea has already retrofitted its reprocessing faculties from the old reactor’s plutonium to the new LWR’s uranium for enrichment to produce nukes when it is finished.
North Korean Politics and the Bomb
North Korea is like the poor little kid down the block wanting the rich kids – South Korea, Japan, China and the United States – to give them respect.
The threat of building an ICBM nuclear arsenal is as valuable to North Korea as actually having one.
Circumstance, economics, influence and prestige have all played a role in their nuclear program.
Back in the late 50s and early 60s the Soviets and the Chinese encouraged North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as a Cold War deterrent to South Korea and the west. Later both countries withdrew support when it no longer served their political purposes.
The Soviets promised to build two light water reactors in North Korea to supply much needed electricity. They reneged. Then, from a British design, the Koreans went ahead to build their own 5MW reactor without anyone’s help.
North Korea started two other much bigger reactors from the same design.
As part of the “Agreed Framework” North Korea said it would stop building its reactors and dismantle its 5MW reactor in exchange for a U.S promise to build the two light water reactors the Soviets had previously promised.
But like Russia, the U.S. reneged on that promise, too.
So North Korea took the fuel rods the U.S. had removed from the defunct 5MW reactor and reprocessed them to produce weapons grade plutonium for its bombs. It has tested two weapons made from that material.
Later, off and on “Six-party talks” resulted in several agreements that were made and broken by one side of the other. The latest was a promise by North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for food aid.
Today’s missile launch violated that latest agreement.
North Korea is only repeating what it has done over and over again in the last 25 years. Its made deals with the west to dismantle its nuclear program and then went right back to it again when the deals did not work out.
North Korea sees the threat of building a nuclear arsenal as its only chance to get respect and extract economic concessions from the west. It gives them regional and domestic prestige. They see it as their only leverage point. If nothing else, they will be feared if they actually build a real arsenal.
That is why North Korea will follow up this missile launch with a 3rd plutonium bomb test. They will race to complete their light water reactor as soon as possible and start producing enriched uranium for more nuclear weapons.
History is repeating itself.
Stay tuned… you haven’t heard the last of North Korea and its nuclear ambitions.