DPRK looks to sell (un)spent fuel rods

UPDATE:  A reader points out in the comments that the DPRK is in fact looking to sell its remaining UNUSED fuel rods…so I made a fairly substantial mistake here.  My confusion on the subject seems to have come from my reading of the Joong Ang Ilbo‘s coverage, but I take full responsibility for not paying close enough attention to the other stories.

Here is the specific quote: “The North asked us to focus on discussing how to handle the spent fuel rods as much as possible” (Joong Ang Ilbo)

The revised facts:

1. The DPRK has 14,800 fresh fuel rods—equivalent to just over 100 tons of uranium (RIA Novosti)
2. The materials are reportedly worth over US$10 million (Yonhap). 

Hwang Joon-gook, a South Korean diplomat in charge of the denuclearization talks with Pyongyang, led a team of South Korean officials and civilian nuclear experts on a fact-finding mission to the DPRK  to decide whether to buy Pyongyang’s spent fuel rods.

The facts:
1. The DPRK has 14,800 spent fuel rods (Joong Ang Ilbo)
2. This is equivalent to just over 100 tons of uranium (RIA Novosti)
3. The materials are reportedly worth over US$10 million (Yonhap). 
4. The rods are apparently up to 15 years old (Yonhap).
5. The US alleges that the DPRK is enriching uranium as well.  Richardson has more information here.

Just last week, Selig Harrson reported that the DPRK told him “it has already weaponized the 30.8 kilograms (67.8 pounds) of plutonium listed in its formal declaration and that the weapons cannot be inspected.” This amount of plutonium could fuel four or five warheads.

According to NTI:

“Even if the D.P.R.K.-U.S. diplomatic relations become normalized, our status as a nuclear-armed state will never change as long as the U.S. nuclear threat to us remains, even to the slightest degree,” said the [DPRK’s] Foreign Ministry, which issued a similar message several days earlier.

For its own reasons, Russia does not consider the DPRK a nuclear power despite the fact that they have detonated a nuclear device—a fact that would raise eyebrows across the DPRK if reported by the local media. In fact, it was the Russians who supplied the DPRK with the Yongbyon reactors in the first place!

In support of Russia’s position, however, Yonhap offers the following:

North Korea detonated its first atomic device in 2006. The relatively small underground test had less than a kiloton in yield, below what is considered a successful nuclear test.

  • An NKEconwatch Fan

    Just a quick clarification: South Korea has indicated an interest in buying the remaining fresh — unused — fuel rods, not the spent rods being unloaded from the reactor. The Joon An Ilbo article seems to confuse the two; the Novosti and Yonhap reports are much clearer. The fresh rods won’t have any plutonium–just natural (i.e., unenriched) uranium.

  • Thank you very much!

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