Happy 'Nuclear Free' Anniversary Kim Jong-il

Feature story - 7 October, 2006
Today is the 9th Anniversary of Kim Jong-il as North Korean leader. We think that the best way to celebrate nine years as the leader of a country which has not detonated a nuclear weapon is to try and stretch that to ten: the world needs fewer nuclear powers, not more.

Kim Jong-il featured as a card in Greenpeace's "Most Wanted" nuclear solitaire deck, distributed at the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

The history of North Korea's pursuit of the bomb is a cautionary tale about the dual use of nuclear power.  The country was given reactor technology and expertise by several countries, had made the mandatory promises to use that power for energy, not weapons, and until a few years ago allowed inspectors to verify it was so. 

Breaking news: North Korean detonates nuclear weapon: By going nuclear, North Korea has highlighted the weakness of the non-proliferation treaty. Pyongyang has underscored the dangerous connection between nuclear research, nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

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The next time someone tells you that nuclear power is "clean and safe"ask them how North Korea was able to convert their reactors into bombfactories.

From Atoms for Peace to atomic weapons

North Korea was suspected of pursuing an active weapons program up to 1994, when it signed an agreement with the US to freeze all activities.

Then in December 2002 it restarted its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. Monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were expelled, and in January 2003, North Korea declared its withdrawal from the international Non-Proliferation Treaty. 

In mid-2003 Pyongyang announced it had completed the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods to extract weapons-grade plutonium and was developing a "nuclear deterrent." 

By early 2005 North Korea announced it had produced nuclear weapons, but it has not, to date, conducted a test detonation. 

Seven nations have demonstrated their nuclear capabilities: The US, The Russian Federation, the UK, France, China, India, and Pakistan.  Israel is known to have nuclear weapons but has never admitted as much, and never claimed responsibility for an explosive nuclear test.

A new Asian arms race?

If North Korea does test a nuclear weapon, it threatens to destabilize the entire region.  Tensions on the Korean Peninsular will rise, and a new nuclear arms race could start in South East Asia.

South Korea has expressed an interest in obtaining stockpiles of plutonium similar to those in Japan, where one of the world's largest repositories of nuclear weapons material sits side-by-side with some of the world's most advanced missile technology.

The nuclear club ought to be getting smaller, and it would be if thenuclear weapons states were to live up to their commitments to rid theworld of nuclear weapons.  That was the deal of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"Ratherthan testing a nuclear weapon, Kim Jong-il should celebrate theoccasion by taking a step towards a nuclear free world," says SteveShallhorn, Executive Director of Greenpeace Australia Pacific. "As longas some countries have nuclear weapons other countries will inevitablyseek to achieve them. Not only should North Korea refrain from thistest and renounce its nuclear weapons programme, so should each andevery one of the other nuclear weapons states."

As Kim Jong-il celebrates, we're urging him to forego the nuclear fireworks.