Skip to comments.N.Korea's Nuclear Facilities 'a Disaster in the Making'
Posted on 04/19/2011 5:52:20 AM PDT by TigerLikesRooster
N.Korea's Nuclear Facilities 'a Disaster in the Making'
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is using nuclear weapons development to maintain his firm grip on power, but a compilation of North Korean state media reports the Unification Ministry has gathered since June 2000, the reclusive leader has never visited the main Yongbyon nuclear complex.
Experts say this is unusual given that Kim has undertaken more than 100 of his so-called on-the-spot guidance tours this year alone, to anything from shoe factories to military units. One theory is that the site is simply too dangerous. Yongbyon "is such a 'sensitive' location that he may have made secret visits, but there is a good chance that he avoided visiting the site due to fears of radiation," an intelligence official said. Sensitive locations do not normally put Kim off. Some years ago he made two visits to a long-range missile base and a nuclear testing site in North Hamgyong Province.
At present, the Yongbyon nuclear complex contains a 5MW graphite-moderated reactor, plutonium extraction facilities, a nuclear fuel processing plant, a half-built 50 MW reactor, two unreported storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel, one storage facility that has been reported, and a light-water reactor that may or may not be completed by 2012.
The plutonium extraction facility is the main reason for the radioactive contamination. "Radioactive materials such as neptunium, americium and curium are released in the process of extracting plutonium by melting spent nuclear fuel rods with nitric acid," said Hwang Il-soon, a nuclear scientist at Seoul National University. "The problem is that these materials have half-lives of hundreds of thousands of years." That means the radioactive contamination possibly caused by the Yongbyon nuclear facility is a problem that will not go away.
There are also facilities in Yongbyon that store the nitric acid and other liquid waste generated from melting spent nuclear fuel rods, but they were covered with dirt, while new buildings have been built over them to cover them up. Other landfills storing solid radioactive waste, including spent nuclear fuel rods, have been covered with soil and trees. Since North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors in 2002, nobody knows for sure what is going on in Yongbyon.
One intelligence official said, "A bigger problem is the light-water reactor slated for completion in 2012. We don't think North Korea is capable of building it, but if the North compromises safety by hastily finishing it, we might witness a nuclear disaster."
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il inspects a steel complex in Jagang Province in this undated photo released on April 10 by [North] Korean Central News Agency. /KCNA-Yonhap Kim Hye-suk, a North Korean defector who was married to a North Korean scientist involved in the country's nuclear weapons program, wrote in her 2009 autobiography of the effect of radioactive contamination on her husband. She said his skin began to peel until it revealed white tissue, and he had to wear dentures when he was only in his 40s because all his teeth fell out. He also suffered from cirrhosis of the liver. Kims husband began working at Yongbyon in the 1980s.
"North Korea has operated its nuclear facilities ignoring safety standards recommended by the IAEA," said a South Korean government official. "The level of radiation in Yongbyon is staggering." Lee Jae-ki, a nuclear scientist at Hanyang University, said, "If his skin peeled off, it means that he was exposed to at least 50 mSv of radiation per year." He could have been exposed to contaminated water in the cooling facility housing spent nuclear fuel rods or contaminated byproducts without wearing protective clothing. The maximum allowed level of radiation is around 1 mSv a year.
One source familiar with North Korean matters said, "I know that many researchers at Yongbyon suffered from hair loss, nausea and dizziness." There are also accounts that North Korean officials avoid escorting foreign visitors to Yongbyon. There are presently around 3,000 people working there, including around 200 scientists.
Say... Isn’t NK upwind of you????
But I thought Commies cared so much about the environment that it was the only solution to environmental depredation by evil capitalists.
Depends on a season.
They are forced to defile the environment they care so deeply for by the need to protect themselves from warmongering capitalists, who are always ready to sweep in with their imperialistic armies to steal the bread from the mouths of The People.
Thus it is the capitalist West that is responsible for North Korea's horrifyingly crude nuclear program, and it is the capitalist West, lead by the warmonger Barack Obama, who should pay for the clean-up.
Nuclear plants in totalitarian state are a danger - incentives are so messed most problems would become disasters.
I remember reading, I think in one of “Suvorov’s” books, about a Soviet nuclear installation that ran the entire process of nuclear weapons grade fissionable materials production from the mine to weapons grade U-235 and plutonium from graphite moderated piles. Big place. Ran for a decade, maybe longer.
Manual labor was done by GULAG prisoners. A train load of prisoners arrived every week. No prisoners ever left.
No serious attempt was made to make the place survivable, obviously. Radioactive waste was moved with shovels and wheelbarrows. The waste was shoveled into trucks and dumped a few miles away. Reactor maintenance was done by hand. The prisoners appear to have died at about a thousand a week.
Pretty much the same kind of place we see in NK, maybe. After all, the Kims are Stalinists.
They are probably running graphite moderated plutonium breeding reactors without real containments and without sufficient control safeguards. The USA did this in the 1940’s and early 1950’s at Hanford Oregon and never had a real problem outside of dumping a few million curies of radio isotopes into the Columbia River. The lads in those days were very careful.
The British cut corners to far in their graphite moderated breeder program resulting in the Windscale fire of 1957. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windscale_fire
Probably the NK breeder program make Chernobyl look like a model of prudent engineering. (Chernobyl was a big graphite moderated plutonium breeder built first for weapons material production and second for electrical generation and district heating.)