North Korea's Choice: Bombs Over Electricity

Journal Articles

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The Bridge, Vol. 40, page(s): 5-12

Summer 2010

Hecker Lee Braun North Koreas Choice 1

Nuclear power and nuclear weapons have a common technological foundation. In pursuit of a civilian fuel cycle-making fuel, building reactors to burn the fuel, and dealing with nuclear waste, which might include extracting some valuable by-products of spent reactor fuel-a nation can develop the capability of producing the material necessary for a bomb, either highly enriched uranium or plutonium. Under civilian cover, North Korea developed a fuel cycle ideally suited to harboring a latent capability for weapons production. In fact, although the country now has the bomb, it does not have much of a nuclear arsenal or any nuclear-generated electricity.

In the 1970s, South Korea was also interested in the bomb, but it gave up those aspirations and, with international assistance, turned its nuclear focus to civilian energy. Today the South Korean nuclear power industry provides nearly 40 percent of the country's electricity, and South Korea is in a position to become a major international exporter of nuclear power plants. The factors that led North Korea to build the bomb and those that led South Korea to forsake it can be instructive for the United States in formulating a policy to restrain Iran's nuclear weapon ambitions, although the political situation there is dramatically different.

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