North Korea detonates nuke, joins planet's most dangerous club

Feature story - October 9, 2006
North Korea became the ninth nuclear power at 10:35 local time (0135 GMT) on Monday when it detonated an undergound nuclear test. Their success is the world's failure.

Kim Jong-il featured as a card in Greenpeace's "Most Wanted" nuclear solitaire deck, distributed at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in the year 2000.

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.

We're calling for a restrained reaction from other countries, such as South Korea, Japan and the United States, and a re-convening of the six-party talks.

Nobody wants yet another country to have a nuclear arsenal, but with over 5,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenal of the United States of America, the relative balance of power has to be kept in mind. It's bad enough that North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon, but it will be worse if other countries don't talk to them.

How to become a nuclear weapons state: step one, get nuclear power

The history of North Korea's pursuit of the bomb is a cautionary tale about the dual use of nuclear power and the failures of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. 

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.

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 bomb factories.

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 other 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.  And due to the widespread use of nuclear energy  about 40 other countries have access to nuclear weapons material and therefore possess the ability to develop nuclear weapons.

One arms control expert, Dr. Jeffery Lewis published details online in August of this year of the test site near Kiliju/Kilchu.  His analysis of Google Earth Satellite imagery of the site is available here (you'll need to have Google Earth installed for that link to work).

A new Asian arms race?

North Korea's new nuclear capability threatens to destabilize the entire region.  

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 the nuclear weapons states were to live up to their commitments to rid the world of nuclear weapons.  That was the deal of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but while the US and other nuclear powers are quick to demand full compliance by the non-nuclear weapons states, they've done little to fulfil their part of the bargain: a Comprehensive  Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and concrete steps toward nuclear disarmament. 

A test ban treaty has been negotiated but remains unratified by the US, China and Israel, among others.  The number of nuclear weapons in the world today remains on par with the number of weapons which existed when the Non-Proliferation Treaty was negotiated in the 1960s.

Sign up

Sign up for our e-zine for online and offline actions you can take to help stop nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

Support us

Donate to Greenpeace to help us work for a green and peaceful planet.