Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Defector Offers Insights into North Korean Arms Buildup

North Korea began building centrifuges to enrich uranium in the late 1990s, a high-ranking North Korean defector said Tuesday. "There is a factory in Huichon, Jagang Province that builds centrifuges," the defector said.

There are fears that centrifuges manufactured in Huichon could have been moved to the nearby Yongbyon nuclear facility north of Pyongyang. Huichon is just 57 km from Yongbyon and the two cities are connected by road and railway.

In November North Korea took U.S. nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker to a facility in Yongbyon that contained around a thousand centrifuges. U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials believe that the centrifuges were made elsewhere.

A North Korean source said, "It takes a considerable amount of electricity to operate centrifuges. There are suspicions that North Korea wants to turn Huichon into a uranium enrichment center after completing the hydroelectric plant." The senior defector said North Korea is incapable of producing the engines that are a crucial component of centrifuges and had to import them from Japan, France and Russia.

Turning to the North's existing nuclear weapons, the defector said their efficiency still needs to be improved, so North Korea will try to boost its nuclear capability by conducting a third nuclear test. 

"There is almost no chance that North Korea will start a war at this point," he added. "High-ranking North Korean military commanders know their country is incapable of sustaining a war."

Chosun Ilbo

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