April 20, 2003


Up to 20 N.Korea Scientists, Military Defect-Paper (Reuters,
Up to 20 high-ranking North Korean military officers and nuclear scientists have defected to the United States and its allies under a plan involving several countries including the Pacific state of Nauru,
an Australian newspaper said on Saturday.

The defections began last October after 11 countries agreed to provide consular protection to smuggle North Koreans from China, The Weekend Australian said.

The man seen as the father of North Korea's nuclear program,Kyong Won-ha, was believed among the defectors, the newspaper said.

It said a U.S.-based lawyer approached Nauru's former president, Rene Harris, with an offer to foot the bill for establishing Nauruan embassies in Washington and Beijing, ostensibly to boost trade ties with those

But the real reason for the Beijing embassy was "to expedite the movement of these very important people," the paper said, citing Harris.

Nauru's former finance minister, Kinza Clodumar, was quoted as saying he was briefed on what was dubbed "Operation Weasel" while with a Nauruan delegation in Washington in October. [...]

Countries believed to have been involved include the United States, Nauru, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Thailand, the Philippines and Spain, the report said.

Given this, it seems even more likely that the North Korean nuclear program is a greater threat to the North Koreans than to anyone else. What are the odds they can run a reactor and produce weapons without a disaster taking place? Posted by Orrin Judd at April 20, 2003 10:00 AM

Ah sweet. You know, I think we have here the solution to blocking NK from procuring nuclear weapons. A brain drain. Just make it impossible for them to do it for lack of qualified scientists/engineers. Is that possible? Maybe we should start bribing all the smart people in rest of the developing world. Make them millionairs, and make them Americans....but get them out of their countries' weapons programs.

Posted by: RC at April 20, 2003 10:42 AM

Kim Jong Il surely knows his pal Saddam Hussein's technique - keep the family members of the scientists as hostages; don't let them travel abroad. Whether this motivational technique gets their best work is another question.

Posted by: pj at April 20, 2003 10:52 AM

Unfortunately, as a professional nuclear engineer, I can say that it simply isn't difficult either to produce Pu-239 in the reactor, or to reprocess it....especially if you are willing to cut safety corners, as the NK government surely is.

Making an *efficient* bomb is more challenging however.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at April 20, 2003 11:27 AM



Posted by: oj at April 20, 2003 11:44 AM

Heh! Good point - it's even been known to happen here (SL1 accident in Idaho in 1960), but I wouldn't count on that sort of, er, 'luck' going in our favor.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at April 20, 2003 3:41 PM


If you recall Carl Sagan's nuclear winter theory, it's long been my personal that a nuclear conflagration could produce sufficient ash to counter global warming.

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2003 4:37 PM

No need. Sagan's "model" was a world

without liquid surface water. Add water and

you get, even after an allout nuclear exchange,

no worse than nuclear autumn.

They need beryllium for a bomb, right, Bruce?

Where do they get it? And machinists who

can handle the nasty stuff. I suppose they

may already have them.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 21, 2003 1:17 AM

As a Cray systems analyst I helped run global climatological models on the Kuwaiti oil smoke plumes at the US Army High Performance Computing Research Center (www.ahpcrc.org) back in 1991. The Army concluded basically that Sagan's predictions were not only wrong, but _really_ wrong (ie that he was using obviously bogus methodology that any undergraduate climatology major could have pointed out to him.)

Posted by: Gideon at April 21, 2003 1:28 AM

Harry -

Beryllium is not strictly necessary, although highly desirable. It serves as a nice neutron reflector (and contributes some neutons once the explosion is underway), but other materials are available that accomplish the same thing at the cost of reduced yield, greater gadget bulk, etc. Beryllium is also used as part of the trigger in some weapons, and probably in a NK weapon as well - although advanced weapons use a fancy, exquisitely timed electronic neutron-producing gun.

You are correct, though - if that nutjob can kidnap a filmmaker to satisfy his personal whim, then acquiring beryllium and the know-how to work with it has probably already happened.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at April 21, 2003 9:30 AM