March 10, 2007

IF YOU CAN SEE OUTSIDE DOES THAT MEAN THERE IS NO WINDOW?:

Where Those Reactors and Centrifuges Came From (JEREMY BERNSTEIN, 3/10/07, NY Times)

North Korea's one functioning reactor, at Yongbyon, uses natural uranium for fuel and graphite as its moderator (the substance that slows the neutrons and enhances the fission reaction). These are the same ingredients used in the first reactor ever designed, which was tested by Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago in 1942. The best estimate is that Yongbyon has produced about 100 pounds of plutonium since it went into full operation in 1990. This is enough for six to eight nuclear bombs, depending on their design. (The North Koreans might have used about six kilograms in their Oct. 9 test.) The construction of the larger reactors North Korea was building was apparently already suspended, for various technical reasons, before the agreement.

The North Koreans have been fairly transparent about their reactor program but almost totally opaque about their program to make natural uranium suitable for nuclear weapons by using centrifuges. We know that there is such a program, but we do not know where it is or how much, if any, uranium it has enriched. Centrifuges are much easier to hide than reactors.


It's transparent that they have no nukes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 10, 2007 2:37 PM
Comments

6kg Pu is Fat Man. "transparent that they have no nukes?" Seems to me they have either initiator design issues (Po210 too old?), trigger design issues, or HE quality control issues.

Posted by: anon at March 10, 2007 3:02 PM

Pu is easier to get (from a breeder reactor) but harder to blow up; it needs expert shaped charges.

In contrast U235 (Little Boy) needs only a rail gun, which any idiot build. After Little Boy the US built only one other such bomb type, the Mark I, which was dismantled in the 1950s due to safety concerns. A U235 bomb is vulnerable to accidents and is d*mn dangerous to transport.

The NoKo fizzle was a Pu bomb. They've given up on it and have switched to the Iranian method.

Posted by: Gideon at March 10, 2007 3:50 PM

Iranian method?

Posted by: erp at March 10, 2007 5:26 PM

Only the Iranians are crazy/reckless enough to want to build a U235 bomb. Every other nuclear power uses Pu.

U235 requires 1000s of cascaded centrifuges to extract it from U238. Slow and tedious but the only way if you don't have the know-how for using Pu.

If the NoKos are using centrifuges it means they've given up on Pu. If a country has a working Pu bomb there's no reason to mess with the more dangerous, less efficient, more expensive U235 process.

Posted by: Gideon at March 10, 2007 9:09 PM
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