SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean scientists are able to build crucial equipment for uranium-based nuclear bombs on their own, cutting the need for imports that had been one of the few ways outsiders could monitor the countrys secretive atomic work, according to evidence gathered by two American experts.
The experts say material published in North Korean scientific publications and news media shows that Pyongyang is mastering domestic production of essential components for the gas centrifuges needed to make such bombs.
The development further complicates long-stalled efforts to stop a nuclear bomb program that Pyongyang has vowed to expand, despite facing international condemnation.
If Pyongyang can make crucial centrifuge parts at home, outsiders cant track sensitive imports. That could spell the end of policies based on export controls, sanctions and interdiction that have been the centerpiece of international efforts to stop North Koreas nuclear program over the last decade.
Thats the basis of remarks that Joshua Pollack, a Washington-based expert on nuclear proliferation, has prepared for delivery Wednesday at a Seoul symposium and provided in advance to The Associated Press.
If theyre not importing these goods in the first place, then we cant catch them in the act, said Pollack, who gathered the evidence with Scott Kemp, an expert on centrifuge technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We wont necessarily see anything more than what the North Koreans want us to see.
The state of North Koreas nuclear program is of vital concern to Washington because Pyongyang wants to build an arsenal of nuclear-armed missiles that can reach American shores.
The North has conducted three nuclear tests of apparently increasing power since 2006, most recently in February, and it is believed to have a handful of crude plutonium-based bombs. Many experts estimate, however, that Pyongyang has not yet mastered the miniaturization technology needed to mount a warhead on a long-range missile.