Full Transcript of Siegfried Hecker on What I Saw in North Korea and Why it Matters at Google TechTalks Conference. This event took place on March 28, 2011.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – What I Saw in North Korea and Why it Matters
Chris: A group of us here at Google are working to understand what our policy should be — our position should be on nuclear energy, with respect to global warming, climate change, renewable energy and dwindling fossil fuel supplies. And we’ve been reaching out to various experts to understand the problems of waste and safety and proliferation. And in a conversation we had several weeks ago with Sieg Hecker, I learned — I had a dramatic kind of change in perception of what North Korea was and why they did what they did. And so we invited Sieg to come and share that with a greater audience. So please welcome, Siegfried Hecker. He’ll tell you about his visits to North Korea and why countries build atomic bombs. Thank you.
Siegfried Hecker – Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University
Thank you very much, Chris. Ladies and gentlemen, both of those of you who are here and also at the remote Google sites, I welcome you and I thank you for inviting me to give a Google seminar.
As Chris had indicated, I’ve been talking to a number of the folks from Google about nuclear futures and nuclear energy. And of course, nuclear energy, it turns out, is the story of promise and peril. And I’ve worked on both of those aspects for a good part of my professional life. I spent 34 years at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the bomb. And I was director of that laboratory for about a dozen years. And then a little over five years ago I came out to Stanford where I continue my work on what I call nuclear risk reduction. And that is mostly the worry about the peril side of nuclear energy. And what I focus on are principally issues of nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons policy, nuclear proliferation, that is the spread of nuclear weapons around the world and nuclear terrorism. But of course all of that is intimately connected to nuclear energy and I was set to give a talk last week which I did at Purdue University which I titled, “Nuclear Promise and Nuclear Peril.” And of course, what everyone had on their mind with nuclear peril was Fukushima, Daiichi in Japan.
But what I’m going to focus on today is mostly the issue of proliferation of nuclear weapons and particularly, North Korea. In my discussions with my colleagues here at Google, I’ve been telling them pieces of the North Korea story and so they were interested to sort of hear the whole North Korea story. Well, I won’t tell you the whole North Korea story but I’m going to try to give you my version of North Korea. The photo that you actually see on here is in Beijing airport of an airplane, it’s actually an Ilyushin, a Russian aircraft, of my getting ready to go into North Korea, into Pyongyang. We have to fly in through Beijing and then also fly back out through Beijing.
And what I’m going to talk about today is to give you a sense of the whole program and that is, how did North Korea get the bomb? What does it actually have? Why did they get the bomb? What is the threat from the North Korean nuclear program? And then what do we do now? And then hopefully, if I leave enough time, I will also try to give you sort of a photo parade of North Korea because I’ve been allowed to take a lot of photos, and it looks very differently than what you see on American television. So, that’s what I will do.
So, let me start with how did North Korea get the bomb? It began with the Soviets’ Atoms for Peace Program. The Atoms for Peace Program was initiated by President Eisenhower and the United States in 1953 and the essence was that at that time only the US, the Russians, and the Brits had nuclear weapons. All of the technology was highly classified and President Eisenhower said, “We will share nuclear technology with those countries in the world who are willing to foreswear nuclear weapons”, in other words, not to pursue nuclear weapons but instead develop Atoms for Peace, for civilian purposes.
The Soviets also followed suit and so, as you might imagine since the world was divided into two, sort of US and Soviet blocs, the Soviets then helped the countries in Eastern Europe and many of the others including China initially, and including North Korea to develop peaceful nuclear energy. So, the North Koreans were trained in Soviet universities. They were trained in Soviet nuclear centers. The Soviets built the first small research reactor in Yongbyon which is still currently the nuclear facility in North Korea. It’s about 90 kilometers north of Pyongyang. And that was the beginning but it was strictly meant to help the North Koreans with peaceful applications of atomic energy.
However, for those of you who know much about Korea, they eventually trust no one. They want to go their own path and they did go their own path in the nuclear arena. And in the 1970s having learned much, having set up their own nuclear engineering programs, nuclear physics programs at the university, they decided and laid out a very ambitious program for nuclear reactors and at the same time, in my opinion, they actually chose a path to the North Korean nuclear reactor program that would also allow them to develop the option for nuclear weapons and I will say more about that.
And then for a number of very interesting but very complex political reasons in the early 1990s when the North Korean world first came apart that was the first time they actually worked directly with the United States in order to take this nuclear program that they were building up and essentially freeze the bomb component of that program. The reason they reached across the United States was that, as you remember, in the end of 1991 the Soviet Union came apart. When that happened here was a very strong and supportive ally of North Korea. Not only the Soviet Union but the Soviet Bloc and you find today strong connections from Eastern Europe to North Korea. And the Russians essentially deserted them overnight and so the financial help, the technical help, everything that was there beforehand went away.
The second major bloc that dealt with North Korea was China, but this was also a time when China was worried much more about its own economic rise than it was about the ideology around the world and the Chinese actually hooked up with the South Koreans because they felt that that was a better way to go economically. So North Korea at that point felt it really had no friends left and it actually reached across the United States in order to try to strike a deal.
Well, that was difficult to do but eventually a deal was struck in 1994. The essence of that deal was that the North Koreans would freeze their plutonium program – and again I’ll tell you more about that. In return the US would actually make sure the North Koreans get two light water reactors, the ones that are better for electricity than for bombs and that we would normalize relationships with them. Well, it turns out that was a rocky marriage from 1994 to 2002, and in 2002 the marriage came apart because that’s the first time the Bush administration actually sent representatives to Pyongyang and instead of sort of holding out the peace branch, they accused the North Koreans of having cheated on this agreement. North Koreans walked away and in 2002 actually began bomb production. And then that continued for the rest of the Bush administration and indeed, along the way, the North Koreans not only were able to extract plutonium from their reactor products but they actually conducted a first test in 2006 and a second test in May of 2009.
So, the North Korean nuclear story is a story of 50 years in the making. It’s not something that you do overnight. It’s 50 years in the making and it vacillated back and forth as to whether it was more civilian or a more defense, and I’ve written a paper on this subject published in the Journal Dædalus in the winter of 2010 which actually looks at the simple connectivity between technical capability and between political intent.
So, let me just give you a little premiere on the bomb because in order for you to appreciate what plutonium means, what highly enriched uranium means, you need at least to know these essentials and if I insult, some of your technical – sorry – but I thought I should give you that as background. There are essentially two paths to the bomb and if you look at the periodic table, the two practical fissile materials are uranium and actually only one isotope of uranium, that is 235 that occurs only seven tenths of a percent of natural uranium, and the other one being plutonium which is principally man-made from reactors. And so the two paths are — let’s look on the right hand side first. And that is, you take the natural fissile material, uranium-235, and you essentially throw away all of the rest of what you find in mother nature, that is the 238 isotope of uranium. You do that by a process called enrichment, essentially just concentrating one isotope.
As you might imagine, that’s somewhat difficult to do because they’re both uranium, they both have the same chemical properties, in essence. So you have to take advantage of one being just a little heavier than the other. And that’s what you do in a centrifuge. So you turn the uranium into a gas, you spin it very, very fast. The light stuff stays on the inside. The heavy stuff goes to the outside. And you just keep doing this over and over and over and that’s where the term centrifuges cascades come from. And so, that was what was done. Actually doing the Manhattan project days in the United States, we did it by a different technique called gaseous diffusion, but today the technique of choice is the centrifuge. And what you see on the right hand side are just rows of these centrifuges.
The second path to the bomb is you actually start with the natural uranium or slightly enriched uranium and you put it in the reactor and you start the neutron reaction, and you fission the uranium-235 atoms that makes a bunch of fission products, and it makes a bunch of neutrons. 238 picks up a neutron and through a few decays becomes plutonium. And it turns out that plutonium is even a better bomb material than uranium-235, except now you not only have to make it in the reactor, which is the top diagram on your left hand side but then you have to extract it from the reactor products, from the fission products. And that you do chemically and that’s what we call reprocessing. You do that in a reprocessing facility.
Now, it turns out for the uranium-235, you can make a rather simple bomb. And that is you just take two sub-critical hemispheres and you put them in a gun and you shoot them together very rapidly. Okay, when you do that, in essence, if you do it right, that was the Hiroshima device, about 13 or so kilotons, 13,000 ton TNT equivalent. It destroyed a city. One plane, one bomb, destroyed a city. That’s because of this nucleus stuff. When you split the nucleus, you get a factor of millions in the energy gain compared to all the other chemical techniques. And so that’s why nuclear is so special. And not only do you get that in nuclear energy but also you also get it in the bomb if you do it right, or if you do it wrong, depending on your point of view. So this gun assembly works for highly enriched uranium for a bomb that’s typically 80% to 90% enriched. It doesn’t work for plutonium for very good nuclear physics reasons I won’t get into. So for plutonium instead, you have to use what we call the implosion device. And that is, you have a sub-critical mass of plutonium, pack explosives around it like a [soccer pole], you put detonators around and you try to implode it all very symmetrically to drive it to super-criticality and then it blows up, that’s Nagasaki. It takes about six kilograms for the implosion device of plutonium, takes a few tens of kilograms for — in highly enriched plutonium. You can also use the implosion device with highly – use highly enriched uranium in the implosion device but a much simpler way to go, and this would be the nuclear terrorism lecture, would be to use this gun assembly.
So, most countries that have nuclear weapons today actually pursued both of these. And in the United States, we did that in the Manhattan project.
Okay. So with that as the premier, then let me just say that North Korea has mastered the entire plutonium fuel cycle. Fuel cycle, meaning everything from the time you dig it out of the ground, you mine it — and by the way, they have significant quantities of uranium ore in North Korea, none in South Korea but quite a bit in North Korea. So, they know how to mine it, mill it, convert it and then make fuel. The type of reactors that they chose to build that are called gas-cooled graphite moderated reactors. They’re patterned after the ones that the Brits built in the early 1950s, the first one of which was Calder Hall reactor. Turns out the benefits of this type of reactor is you can feed in natural uranium. You don’t have to enrich it a little bit first as you do with light water reactors. So that means the North Koreans, since they did this on their own, I mean they copied the Calder Hall reactor but they did it strictly on their own with no more help at that time from the Soviets, from the Chinese, from nobody. And so, they didn’t need enrichment, they were able to make their own fuel, used metallic fuel for these reactors instead of ceramic fuels because you need a higher uranium density since all you have is seven tenths of a percent of the fissile isotope. And so, they know how to make fuel.
Second, they built reactors. They finished one, the small one, five mega-watt electric. That’s very small. It doesn’t produce much electricity but it produces one bomb’s worth of plutonium a year if you can extract it. And so, they’ve had that reactor operating since 1986, off and on over the years. They had a 50-megawatt within one or two years of completion when they signed this agreement with the Americans in 1994, that was then halted. And I will tell you later through my visits, I found out it’s dead. It can’t be resurrected. They had a 200-megawatt electric reactor that actually would have produced quite a bit of electricity for North Korea. That was just in the beginning stages of construction. They halted that. That’s also not salvageable today. The back-end, the reprocessing facility, it’s just a complicated chemical engineering facility where you deal with all of this hot nucleus stuff that you’ve heard about related to Japan except, in this type of facility you handle it in hot cells with remote handling where that radioactivity is essentially separated from the workers. They know how to that. They patterned that facility after a facility in Belgium. Again, they built it by themselves. North Koreans are terrific engineers. They built this whole complex then by themselves. So, that’s the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
So, what do they have? It’s sort of the bottom line slide. On the basis of my visits and my discussions with the North Koreans, and on the basis of looking with Google Earth as to whether that there’s a plume coming out of the cooling tower of the Yongyon reactor, we pretty much know how many days it’s operated. We can estimate what power level they operate at and we know what sort of reactor they have, what fuel they put in, and you can calculate how much plutonium they’ve made. So this is actually the part we know the best. And then some of the holes they filled-in in my personal discussions with them. So they have to date 24 to 42 kilograms sort of four to eight bombs worth. So — and they indeed do have the bomb because they exploded two of them, one didn’t work so well. The second one, as far as I’m concerned was successful.
Now, my view is that — since they’ve had have let’s say, one and a half test, the bombs that they have are most likely primitive bombs. In other words like our Nagasaki bomb which had to be delivered — it was huge 10,000 pounds, had to be delivered by a plane. It’s very difficult to miniaturize these things and it takes nuclear testing, it takes computational capability and I just don’t believe they’ve had the opportunity to get there yet.
Now, they have no plutonium in the pipeline even though they could still run that reactor, they’ve chosen not to run their reactor. It’s an interesting part of the North Korean story. They shut it down the last time in July of 2007. They’ve not restarted it. However, they could –again based on my visits, it would take about six months to get their reactor up and operating. And the reprocessing facility, it’s in cold stand-by — it’s in standby but they could operate it also.
Now, uranium enrichment, we’ve suspected them of doing uranium enrichment over decades but we never really had the smoking gun. And that was the story of my last visit in November of 2010. They finally decided to show me what they’ve done in uranium enrichment. Quite frankly, I was expecting not much, sort of a couple of dozen centrifuges, maybe in a garage or somewhere, and instead, I’ll show you that they now have a small industrial scale centrifuge facility. And I’ll tell you what it’s for. And then I’ll also tell you what the potential problems are. I mentioned that here, is even though they’ve built this current facility that I saw to make low-enriched uranium, that stuff that goes into light water reactors, sort of 3% to 5% enriched in the isotope 235 instead of 80 to 90 which is what you would use for bombs.
And so, we don’t know about the highly-enriched uranium weapons because this is a new twist that we simply didn’t expect for them to have come this far. Will there be another nuclear test? When we were just working in the plutonium world, I thought maybe one more. But as you can see with that much plutonium, if they would do six tests we’d be finished. You know, the problem would be solved. I thought they might do one more. Now, if they make highly-enriched uranium, we may see highly enriched uranium test. So, we’re not sure.
So, how do we know all this stuff? It helped that shows up okay, that you can at least see photos from my six first trips to North Korea, I’ve taken seven all together. In 2003 — and what’s really interesting in working with the North Koreans, is you might imagine they only let me in if they feel that I can do them some good. I mean, because otherwise, why let me in into their nuclear facilities. So, for each of these visits, they’ve had a very special message.
Now, you might wonder how I get to go to North Korea. Well, I don’t go as a U.S. government official, it’s what we call Track II diplomacy, non-official, non-governmental. I worked for Los Alamos for 34 years but one of the beauties of working for Los Alamos, I was actually an employee at the University of California because it ran the laboratory for the government. So, I was never a government employee. But the North Koreans know I have a good link to the U.S. government. I mean, that’s what they want to use. So, they sent me a message with each of these visits. The first one and the last one were the most fascinating one. The first one — I actually show a picture, so you’ve heard about spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi, I’m sure. This is the spent fuel pool and we’re looking down into this spent fuel pool in Yongbyon because they were trying to tell me that the fuel rod that used to be stored in there that held the plutonium that’s been sitting there for eight years is now gone. And they’ve extracted the plutonium. Wasn’t quite that easy to figure out but the bottom line was one, when they showed me their reprocessing facility, they sat me down in a conference room, then they said, “Well, Dr. Hecker, we’ve now shown you our deterrent.”
And I said, “Deterrent? Hey, wait a minute, I mean, you showed me the reactor reprocessing facility. It looks like the fuel rods are gone, you have that, but I haven’t seen anything.”
They said, “Well, how would you like to see our product?” And I’m in the conference room now, right? And I said, “You mean the plutonium?”
And they said, “Well, yes.”
I said, “Well, I’ve worked at Los Alamos for 34 years. Yes, sure bring it in.” So, they did into the conference room. A metal box about this big and I opened it up. They opened it up. Inside was a white wooden box. They slid off the top and there sat two jars, two marmalade jars, believe it or not. Screw on tops and inside was a plutonium powder and the other one had plutonium metal. They said that’s our product.
So, I finally wound up — I didn’t have any detectors. I had nothing with me because I figured I’d never get in if I bring anything. So, I had my eyes and finally I asked them if I could hold it? Because plutonium’s very heavy. The density of unalloyed plutonium is 20 grams per cc and it also should be slightly warm because it is radioactive. And when I tell my students that story, they all say, “Oh my God, you held a plutonium. How come you’re still alive?”
Well, for those I’m sure you know, the plutonium is only alpha reactive. And so as long as you have it in the plastic bag or in a jar or whatever, it doesn’t get you. You don’t want to breathe it or inhale it — I mean, inhale it or digest it. And so, the plutonium was okay. And it was plutonium. And so, each one of these visits they had a certain message that they wanted to get across. And over these seven years, I’ve been able to visit their nuclear facilities four times, talk to their nuclear people especially in each of those visits, and get a reasonably good sense of what they have in their plutonium program. That was the story in 2004.
In 2007, what you see here is actually a glove box and I’m in the middle of that crew, on the lower left. I do actually see where they made the plutonium and that was fascinating. I learned a lot just from going through the plutonium laboratory. The one on the right, they actually showed that they had disabled most of their plutonium facilities in 2008 which they did. And then we come to visit number seven which was just this last November. And when I arrived there they said, “We will convert this center, from a plutonium facility to a light water reactor and pilot enrichment facility.” So, that’s what we’re doing.
And then they also reminded me. They said, you know, we said that in 2009 after — again, they had an altercation this time with the Obama administration, they walked away from everything again from these six party talks, the four neighbors, North Korea and the US, and they said, “We’re going to do our own light water reactor. And that of course means we have to actually do uranium enrichment because that’s what you need for light water reactor fuel.” And they said, “Nobody believed us including you Dr. Hecker. And so, we’re going to show you.” So, they did. So they first took me on the left hand side. The arrow points to where they were just beginning the construction of the light water reactor. On the right hand side, the building with a blue roof, which interestingly enough no one had picked up until that time. It was only after I told people I was in this building that then — when they looked down with digital globe, and they saw this blue roof, I said, “Yes, that’s the one. That’s where I was and that’s where the uranium enrichment was being done.”
So with the light water reactor, particularly in light of what happened now in Japan, and I wrote these all before Japan ever happened, I’ve published several papers on my visit to North Korea, what I found and what concerns me. And this was one of my biggest concerns. When I saw how they were constructing that small — it’s a small light water reactor, experimental light water reactor; it would not meet U.S. or Western safety standards. The way that they were constructing this concrete containment shell with a small concrete mixer, in the winter time, it’s just not the way to construct the reactor. They also did it with a whole new reactor design team. It’s tough to forge that stainless steel. It’s even tougher to go ahead and weld it in place. They did weld with their old reactor but this is very different. It’s a different technology. And what I used to say, the western world learned, in fact the whole world learned from the examples of Three Mile Island and then Chernobyl. And nuclear power operators around the world got together and said, “Look, we have to run these things safely because otherwise we will have no nuclear power.” And they did. They had a fantastic safety record for all those years. Then of course, Fukushima Daiichi happened, you know, where a national catastrophe was much beyond anything that the system was designed for. And the one thing, at least, that I’ve learned from that and that lessons learned will yet to be drawn because, of course, the situation is not yet completely stabilized.
But one of the lessons is, for sure, you have to have technical expertise in-country. Both the authorities and the technical people have to know what they’re doing in terms of emergency response. You have to have the right equipment available. I’m sure you followed that, with the fire trucks, the hoses, the sea-salt spraying and all of these things. Well, let me — I want to give you examples of North Korean preparedness for natural disasters and it doesn’t give you a lot of faith. So, I was mostly concerned about the safety of their reactor and I made this view-graph long before Japan. One can also be concerned that this light water reactor could make plutonium. But it turns out it wouldn’t make any sense to make plutonium that way because they already have a reactor that makes good bomb-grade plutonium. Light water reactors make bad bomb-grade plutonium. And of course, what they now have is they can say, “Look, we have a light water reactor. We need to enrich because that’s what we need to do for nuclear energy.” And so, that’s what they say.
This is a photo I took in August of 2007, as we were leaving Yongbyon after the rain, torrential rains all day long, and if you look carefully, what you see is on the other side of the river, there’s a whole parade of people, from children to adults that are carrying rocks and sand in dishpans up to the road to throw it on the roads so that we could get back out of there and back to Pyongyang. That was their Emergency Relief and Disaster Management. And it turns out they lost several hundred people in North Korea during that flood. They had about 50 centimeters of rain in various parts of the country. They lost 10% of their crops in essence, because they don’t have much in terms of Emergency Relief and Disaster Management.
Okay, now just to give you a little bit of what was associated with this uranium enrichment. Since it was a big surprise, in the middle on the right hand side is Ambassador Lee Hoon, the second in-charge of the six-party talks. And he said, “Dr. Hecker, you will have very big news when you go to Yongbyon.” I still didn’t know what it was. The big news was something like this, and I had to make this up because they wouldn’t let me take any photos this time. This is a slightly doctored photo from one of the US centrifuge plants, but that’s in essence what a centrifuge facility looked like. It was truly mind boggling. In about 2,000 centrifuges I looked up from the second floor of an observation window and it’s just these beautiful rows of centrifuges, three of them in pairs. And not only that, but the whole facility looked totally different than all the other facilities at Yongbyon. The other facilities looked sort of Soviet 50s or 60s style. And just to give you an example, on the lower right is the reactor control room that I visited several times, sort of Soviet style. And what you see on the upper left is actually, computers flat screens. This was in Kim Il-sung University e-Library. And the control room of this centrifuge facility looked like that, not like the old control rooms. So, it had four computers, flat panel monitors, LED displays. It was just ultra modern. I’ve never seen anything like that in North Korea.
Okay, so the centrifuge facility — I’ll just go through this very quickly because I’m sure most of you are not interested in the details. But they did have 2,000 centrifuges and it looked like they have, what we call P-2s, sort of a second generation of centrifuges. It turns out the faster you spin these centrifuges, the more separation that you get. And so you have to use very high strength materials so they don’t come up apart. The first generation was aluminum; the second generation is what we call maraging steel. The third generation would actually be carbon composites. So their throughput is 8,000 kilograms separative work units per year. What does that mean? Well it would mean they have enough capacity to make the low enriched uranium fuel for that little reactor. The problem is, as I’ll point out in just a minute, it’s also enough to make one bombs worth of highly enriched uranium if they plummet that way. And they had previously told me over and over, they don’t have a uranium enrichment program. But they do.
So in American diplomatic circles, what you saw — as soon as I came back, the word was, “See? They lied.” My answer was, “Well of course, they lied.” I mean they’ve lied many times. And many countries lie of course in that whole messy diplomatic process, but those diplomats in the US that I actually worked with them that had specifically heard, “We don’t have uranium enrichment.” Well, they do. For those of us in the proliferation business, the most interesting aspect is, “How did they get it?” Because unlike for their reactors where I told you they made them indigenously, essentially they had all the materials that they needed. For the enrichment, they do not have all the materials. They do not have all the components, and we believe they still cannot make those today. So they had to purchase them from somewhere. And they did. But it turns out there were plenty of greedy European businessmen who were willing to sell them things. And the Germans tried to sell them aluminum alloys. The Russians did sell them aluminum alloys. We don’t know where they got the maraging steel, most likely from the Russians. Again, not through legal, necessarily legal part but they got them. Where did they get the frequency inverters? Where did they get the bearings? Where did they get many of the other components? Well, the same place that A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb got them from all over the world through a very complicated procurement ring. It looks like the North Koreans have run a very similar ring. And in fact, A.Q. Khan himself actually helped out the North Koreans. We know that because President Musharraf in his memoir actually said he gave them the starter kit. It was that starter kit that I was expecting to see but instead, much like the North Koreans have done with everything else, they take whatever they can get and then they build things themselves and they do it quiet well.
There’s also — I used to be concerned about possible cooperation with Iran. But, from what I saw, North Korea is ahead of the Iranian centrifuge program. The Iranians have played with centrifuges since 1987 and they still don’t have the separative work capacity that the North Koreans did. This is just to show you that what the North Koreans told me is that, “Oh yes, of course we have uranium enrichment now. We just started this program last year.” And it turns out that’s just not possible. It takes years, and years, and years. And most likely they’ve been added for decades. But the building that they putted in and I’ve got this split photo, the one with the blue roof is up now and it looked like where you see it before, where I showed the fuel rod fab facility. That’s the building I was in a couple of years ago and it didn’t look anything like this. So they guttedd it, moved it in, but what it means is they had a centrifuge facility operating some place else. And then they duplicated it and moved it in here within the last year’s time.
So what’s the threat from the centrifuge program? Itself, it’s required for LWRs so they actually have a good story. “We tried to get an LWR from you, the Americans. You wouldn’t give it to us, we decided to make our own. And if we make an LWR, we now need to enrich. And so we did.” Well, but the problem is, the same technology also then can be used to make highly enriched uranium. And that’s the Iran problem. That’s in essence Iran has justified its program since it was discovered in 2002, that they need to do it for their own light water reactor program. The problem is that we also suspect them of being capable to go to highly enriched uranium. So these 2,000 centrifuges could make enough reactor fuel or they could make 40 kilograms of 90% enriched.
Now, let’s also look for the most part, we hear in the United States that all of our diplomatic attempts with North Korea has been totally unsuccessful. It turns out I don’t agree with that because if we would have left the North Koreans alone in the early 1990s, continue on their path to build all three of those reactors that I showed you, think of it a couple hundred bombs today, not a handful. That’s a huge, huge difference. So, what did they not get? They never finished those bigger reactors. They could have 100 plus weapons and they wanted electricity and they got essentially nothing. If you add up all the electricity since 1986 to today, they produce by nuclear power, it’s 23 days worth of an LWR equivalent. So, you could say, if you look at these two North Korean glasses, we work with these Americans and we got nothing. Now we did get a handful of bombs and of course for the regime, that’s all for the important.
So why did they get the bomb? Why do countries get the bomb? It’s usually three reasons for security, domestic reasons, and international reasons. Security, no question, is the driving force. We’re still at war technically with North Korea. The war was only stopped by an armistice in 1953. We have no peace treaty. And every visit that I’ve had, I’m reminded of the hostile policies of the United States toward North Korea. And so when they explained “why we had to get the bomb?”, of course, it’s easy for them to say, “It’s your fault. It’s the Americans’ fault. Your hostile policy, we feel threatened by you.” And of course, they have a few things to point to, like Saddam Hussein for example, and the lessons for them was, “He didn’t have the bomb and he’s gone.” There was a very interesting newspaper blurb from the North Koreans referring to the Gaddafi situation in Libya. Essentially saying “He shouldn’t have given up this nuclear stuff in 2003”. Look what’s happening to him now.
So anyway, of course they turn these things in the direction that the regime wants them to be. The domestic reasons, once they got the bomb, then of course for domestic reasons, these people in North Korea, if you compare them to South Korea, I mean, they really are destitute. And so they have to sacrifice in their daily lives. They’re reminded daily they have to sacrifice. Well, if you have an enemy and if you got to build a nuclear weapon to keep that enemy out, so that justifies the sacrifice. And then internationally, that bomb has bought them an enormous–that handful of bombs, they’re not much of a nuclear arsenal but it has kept the US out and it does bring the US to and the rest to the bargaining table. So it’s used as a bargaining chip.
So, now we know they have the bomb. We know they have some uranium enrichment. So what does it really mean? I personally don’t lose a lot of sleep over the fact that they have the bomb. They’ve had it at least since 2003. They haven’t done anything crazy with those bombs. From their standpoint, it’s a deterrent to keep the United States out. So the threat from those handfuls of bombs, I think, currently is low. If they use the bomb it’s all over. I mean, the one thing their regime wants is regime preservation and they know that if they use the bomb anywhere, anytime, it’s the end of the regime. So, why would they want to use it?
Now, if they have a lot more bombs, then I start worrying more. And particularly so if so they would be able to make a lot of highly enriched uranium which I think they are currently not able to do, that is, to make a lot, so if they have a hundred bombs, I’m more concerned. But miscalculations or accidents can certainly happen. When you play with bombs accidents can happen of course, as we find out in many areas. Uranium enrichment, I used to not be worried about it. Now I worry about it, if they have the capacity to make a lot of highly enriched uranium. What I worry mostly about from North Korea is export. In other words, there’s one threat of having this nuclear stuff in the hands of the government. It’s much worse yet if it gets out of the hands of the government into the hands of Iran, into the hands of terrorists. And so, we know that the North Koreans sell missile technology all over the world, particularly the countries that we’re not terribly fond of. We also have examples where they have sold nuclear technologies. I’m going to give you one example of that.
But sort of difficult to do plutonium export. They build the reactors although they did one in Syria. It would be much easier to do highly enriched uranium technology or perhaps to sell highly enriched uranium because you could use the justification: use highly enriched uranium in research reactors. And so, it’s actually a civilian export, not a bomb export.
So, this was the situation of North Korea. Let me first say, of this concrete box appearing in the Syrian desert, it doesn’t look like much. Although one of my Los Alamos colleagues, uses SketchUp 6, and he does beautiful things with all of these aerials and he reconstructs what was actually in that building. But the Israelis suspected that to be a reactor and they have good reasons to suspect it. They bombed the reactor and I’ll show you a picture of that, one of the few you can get on open source with Google Earth, and then it turns out the Syrians cleaned it up because the Syrians, of course, have denied that that was a reactor and they cleaned it up so fast and they still haven’t allowed the international inspectors full access. But this thing was a reactor.
The reactor is on the left, that’s the concrete box; on the right is actually what it looked like after the Israelis bombed it. And when you analyze that closely, it turns out all of the dimensions are just right. It looks just like the North Korean reactor. The Israelis also got a hold of somebody’s laptop and showed this reactor under construction before it became the concrete box, and it’s clearly I guess, graphite reactor patterned just like the North Korean. And so there’s very little questions that the North Korean built this reactor for the Syrians. We still don’t know why exactly the Syrians wanted it. Who the customer was? It’s another great proliferation puzzle. What I thought you’d get a kick out of, and again, my colleague at Los Alamos does these beautiful things, a combination of Google Earth, Wikis, blogs, Facebooks, everything, and he pulls photos from everywhere together and then makes stories. And one of the neat stories is — remember this concrete box? That’s the box on the lower left. The other three pictures, three photographs that tourists took of Byzantine fortresses in the area. And even though the scale is somewhat different, you look at that similarity and you say, “Now, we understood why they built something like that.” There was no anti-aircraft around that reactor. There were no big fences. There was nothing. It just sat out there and they specifically wanted to make sure, which is sort of blend it into the countryside. But when they put the pipes, the water pipes down the Euphrates River, that’s when the Israelis said, “Okay. Now, we think they’re going to pipe up water.” And it was wiped out. So, we worry about the North Koreans doing more in nuclear technologies with other countries.
So, will they give up the bomb? In my opinion, not in the near future because it’s their ticket for regime survival, and unless we’re willing to take military action which we’re not, we can’t force it to give it up. We’ve tried to squeeze North Korea but it turns out China doesn’t want to squeeze North Korea. They have a very different relationship, not that the Chinese like the North Koreans having bombs. They prefer the North Koreans not to have bombs but they are not willing to make the regime come to its knees in order for them to give up the bomb. And that’s where we stand today. So without the Chinese, you can’t force them to give up the bomb. So, what you have to do is, for the time being, unfortunately, we have to live with it. So, we should make sure that we reduce the risks and then develop a comprehensive solution.
So, we have to deal with North Korea the way it is, not the way we’d like it to be. We got to work with China particularly but also of course with South Korea because in the end, that’s the same people. It’s the same country. But we’ve got to contain the threat even though eventually we’d like a denuclearized Korean peninsula. So what I’ve been trying to sort of market in Washington is, to me, what makes the most sense is what I call three nos with one yes. The way to reduce the risk is no more bombs, no better bombs, no export. If we could get the North Koreans to agree on that and particularly get the Chinese to agree to put the squeeze on the North Koreans, not at this point to give up the bomb but at least to stop increasing the threat. The “no better bombs” means no testing. So again, if you look with Google Earth, you can see that they are preparing a third test site. The holes there, we don’t know exactly when they are going to do it or what they’re going to do but we’d rather not have them do that test. And so, no test, no more bombs. They’re already not producing more plutonium. Now we’d have to make sure they’re not producing more highly enriched uranium. The one yes is — it’s the insecurity that drives them. And so this whole issue of normalization of relations, what actually needs to be done, and there’s no single piece of paper you can sign with the North Korean. This is a process that’s going to take a number of years.
Okay. So, now quiz if I may. I may be able to run through five minutes of just a photo tour through North Korea. Of course, it’s not — it’s important because we see such a different view on U.S. television today, but it’s also important that if you’re going to try to solve the nuclear issue, we techies always think the solution is technical. But the solution here isn’t technical. The technology has to inform the policy but you have to understand the people, you have to understand the history, you have to understand the culture in order to understand the politics, to understand whether there is any chance of coming to a resolution.
So I focus on the people, and of course in North Korea the people starts with the Kim family. And particularly here, the third son Kim Jong-un and so, everything that we see revolves around the Kim family. But on the right hand side, here’s another family, just an ordinary Pyongyang family. Now Pyongyang of course is much better off than most of the rest of the country. But it’s a mother taking her three little kids probably to kindergarten. So, they are real people. Kim Jong-un, he’s being prepared — a lot of people have said he’s being moved into the leadership. That’s not true. He is being prepared for the leadership of North Korea in a very clever fashion I think, by his father. In the middle, you see the trio, from Kim Il-Sung to Kim Jung-il to Kim Jong-un.
Before last September of 2009 — let’s see, September of 2010, we essentially knew nothing about Kim Jong-un. And of course, in terms of people and incidents, we also hear — in March of 26, it turns out 2010, when we thought we might be able to reach some sort of accommodations again with North Koreans, they apparently sank a South Korean ship, this Cheonan. Things went back into a crisis once again and then we were emerging from that crisis when the North Koreans again allowed a number of these Track II visits including my own in November of last year. And then two days after I made my findings public, then we had the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. And again, trying to understand what exactly was happening and what do these things have to do with how the politics are playing out internally within North Korea and the politics between the North and the South.
I won’t spend any time on those but just to remind you that the threats are still there and certainly the rhetoric is there of the North Korean army saying that they are ready to launch a sacred war of justice of Korean style based on the nuclear deterrent. That’s what we must avoid. So for that, let’s look at the people. This is what we typically see and it’s true. North Korea is a repressive state led by a repressive government. They have death camps, forced labor camps, torture facilities. Those exist in North Korea. But what also exist are real people. And I go visit typically with the embassies of different countries — and by the way North Korea, it’s called the Hermit Kingdom, the most isolated state in the whole wide world. They have diplomatic relations with 144 countries around the world. I’ve run into a single German woman tourist in North Korea, just going there to be a tourist. I’ve run into Italian tourist. I stopped at the embassies of Sweden, Poland, Czech Republic, et cetera in North Korea.
This is a letter that was sent to me by one of the Swiss workers and I thought it was interesting, because she says, “Look, like does remain difficult.” And she says, “They are tight-lipped. They sort of have three compartments in their heads, one for the party, one for survival strategy, and one for his or her very own thoughts.” And she said, “I often feel the certain heaviness out in the countryside but at the same time pride, toughness, and a dose of nationalism that’s there among the people.” So in most part the people have figured out how to live within that system and how to get on with life in spite of the fact that life isn’t very pretty, especially compared to South Korea. So she says, “What a life? When will it get better?”
Okay, now for the photo tour. These are real people. And it’s important to take a look at those young ladies. They are so cute. They are real people, and they’re going to grow up someday and they’re going to live in North Korea and we hope they live in a better place. Look at this young lady, there are kiosks all over North Korea now, particularly in Pyongyang but I didn’t saw them out in the countryside where they actually do have food.
The students, it’s always a pleasure to go visit their schools. They’re doing a physics experiment here. And this young lady right here was writing an essay on Thomas Alva Edison. Okay? This is North Korea and she’s writing an essay on Thomas Alva Edison. Computers, dance, we went to the school of Foreign Studies in February, it was colder inside the building than outside the building. But nevertheless, they were studying English. Life goes on in Pyongyang of course, particularly people tell you, there are no people there, there are no cars, there are no traffic but there are some.
There are signs of market activity all over North Korea. And the market has gone up and down over the years because as soon as they become successful, then the government becomes scared and tries to shut them down. As soon as it shuts them down the people try to figure out, where they can actually get something so they build them back and so it sort of oscillates over time. The Chinese — what the Chinese would really like to do, they say, “Look, why don’t you do what we did 30 years ago?” and sort of let the strings out on the free market. But the North Korean regime is much too scared of that so it’s very careful.
Arirang is this fantastic gymnastic dance performance, a hundred thousand performers in what they call their May Day Stadium. I already showed you this of the unpreparedness for disaster. This last was with Kimchi time. For those of you who know Koreans, Kimchi is very important — there was cabbage everywhere. It was time to actually take care and pick all the cabbage. They’re very determined people. Again, if you think they can’t do anything because of what we see on television, if they want to build a university of music, they’ll build a university of music and they did in just a few years time and I was inside it, it’s just actually spectacular.
So, where the regime wants to put its money it can get things done. That’s the concert hall of a concert I attended. Again, North Korea being cut-off, I celebrated the 92nd anniversary of the Independence of Poland in Pyongyang last November. They have two Polish artists and then they had this young Korean lady playing Chopin and it was absolutely beautiful, just beautiful. They have factories, we say they can’t do anything. I’m a meddler just by training. This was a great wire factory. They have textile factories and interestingly enough, we got there and we thought we heard American rock music, which we didn’t quite believe our ears. So when we asked our guide told us, “Well, we asked the women what they wanted to hear and they said American rock music.” So that’s what they were playing. They have very fancy textile machines. These are from Germany. Lots of activity. This is a tree farm. Kim Jong-Il goes out and he does this on the spot site visits. And then most have gone out, they told me that there were hills there and he said, “Let there be apple trees.” And indeed, two years later, there are two million apple trees from Italy. They actually came and helped them plant those and they were already productive in their first year, very impressive site.
Swimming pools, Kim Il-sung University. This is a fancy and Olympic size swimming pool as I’ve ever seen. As you can you tell I wasn’t dressed quite right. But, not only the pool but water slides and if the waters slides aren’t good enough and he’s massaging. This is Kim Il-sung University, very prestigious university, obviously for the high-end of the political spectrum for North Korea. But they tell me 10,000 students were trained here at Kim Il-sung University and take advantage of their e-library. And actually, in this case, my colleague John Lewis was the guy who took me to North Korea in the first place, looked to say, “Is that really an HP soft touch screen?” And it was. And here they were in foreign studies and they actually had these students speak and debate each other while we were there. And it was amazing. Every child in North Korea has to take English from the third grade on and by the time they got here in this University of Foreign Studies, they spoke very good American English actually, not British English.
So what does the future hold as I’m drawing to an end? You know, that’s Seoul and a market in Seoul. And obviously, do have such an enormous disparity across one line, one political demarcation can’t hold out forever. People tell you there are no lights. One of the favorite Google Earths is a –Vice President Cheney used to show the darkness in North Korea and the lit-up in South Korea. There are more lights. Times are changing. Some of their buildings are actually lit at night. There’s also this hotel that they built some 27 years ago. It was a concrete structure shown on the left, never finished, 104 stories. Back two years ago, they started putting glass on. An Egyptian company was finishing it up and this last November it was actually done, and is one impressive, impressive building. So again, if you look at this from a North Korean standpoint, to look up in the city and see this impressive thing actually, some progress seems to be happening.
Then additionally, they tell you there’s no traffic. There’s not only traffic, there’s some taxi service. And if you could see this and look closely, that taxi is a Ford Focus Taxi. Okay? This is in Pyongyang, North Korea.
And then we finally started seeing some phone booths, not the Clark Kent sort of phone booths but at least some phone booths in 2009. And so we said, things are starting to change. But the real coup de grace came on this visit and hopefully you can see this on a diagram and it’s a young lady talking on a cell phone and the same on the lower right hand, the person talking in a cell phone, it turns out since two years ago, there are now 350,000 cell phones in North Korea. They have three separate services, it’s all run by the Egyptians also. Egyptians and North Koreans are very good friends. And so eventually, that would catch up with them.
Now, I’ll show you for the last, the end, again because of the nature of the lighting in here. I’m not sure how well it will show up. But, every now and then, you catch a picture like that and here’s one I caught in Pyongyang Subway. I was coming out and walking down; there was a young man with a light base jacket, it was November, had the red bandana for the revolution. Everything looked normal except until I looked at his head. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a baseball cap worn backwards with a Nike Swoosh. This is Pyongyang. When that kid gets to be 21 years old they’re going to have a hard time keeping him down on the farm.
And so let me end with saying, “If there are swoosh, there has to be some hope even for North Korea.” Okay. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.
Chris: Thank you Sieg. Can you come up and ask your questions up here? He has a little bit of hearing problem, and if you can face him and speak your questions.
Siegfried Hecker: It turns out I have great difficulty hearing especially, I love your Google wide open environment but they play havoc with my hearing. Okay, so if you could come up, that would be great.
Audience: So I really enjoyed the talk. I have a question about South Korea and Japan, the closest neighbors besides China. So, are the experts in South Korea and Japan as informed as you are or more informed? And what is the official position with respect to the nuclear — what should be done with respect to the nuclear problem in North Korea?
Siegfried Hecker: Okay. If — I want to make sure that I understand. So first is what do the experts think in South Korea and Japan as far as the nuclear situation and then what do the governments think in terms of what should be done? And so as far as the experts go, it turns out they have no access and that actually goes for the Chinese. I stopped and talked to the Chinese every time I go in and out of North Korea, and I talk to their nuclear people and we compare notes and for the most part the Chinese greatly underestimated the North Korean capabilities and continue to do so even today. The South Koreans and the Japanese for the most part just also have very little information. And so, as it turns out I’m very popular in both countries. I’ve appeared on television shows, they read all the stuff because it’s one of the few independent things that actually gets information there. We compare notes, I go to South Korea, I haven’t been to Japan for a while but people have come and seen me.
The analysis — one of the interesting aspects of doing this sort of Track II diplomacy – one of the things I like to accomplish with it, is to get the best possible understanding of the nuclear situation in the hands of the public. Not only in the hands of the intelligence agencies or the top politicians, so that the public actually has an understanding of what we’re dealing with and that you get a better picture out there, instead of having the politicians use it, to twist it in whatever their own direction is. And so, since they have let me in, I think there’s a much more uniform appraisal on the highly enriched uranium. There was one very good analyst in Washington that just published a paper right before I went in, said “suspecting that they had at least pilot scale R&D.” It turns out he was right. But generally we have a pretty good common understanding and analysis that includes Japan and South Korea. The Russians and the Chinese have underestimated them but it’s pretty close.
As far as the governments are concerned, the Japanese and I’m just going to tell it the way it is, have not been very helpful on this — on the North Korean situation. And for the most part is they have focused on what’s called the abductees issue. Kim Jong-Il and his honchos managed to abduct a number of Japanese years ago and he’s not been willing to fully resolve it and so every discussion with the Japanese almost starts and ends with the “abductee” issue. And so, it’s been — the Japanese have been essentially the toughest in the negotiations because the North Koreans have not come clean on the “abductee” issue. By the way, when I discussed this with the North Koreans they essentially say, “Look, we have no sympathy for the Japanese after what they did they did to us in the 40 years of occupation. Who are they to complain?” But so, that’s a big gap.
In South Korea, the previous governments practiced what they call the “Sunshine Policy” and that is to reach out to the North Koreans and try to figure out a way to sort of move forward, get them to take some market measures, to help them out a lot, but I think they also wound up paying off the North Koreans a lot. There are reports that for the one summit that was held between North and South, that the South actually paid the North Koreans a lot of money under the table for that. The current government is a very conservative government and they said, “We’re not paying them under the table anymore.” And so they’ve played it very tough and so, right now US policy, to a large extent is driven by the fact that we want to be in lockstep with South Korea. South Korea is being very tough and saying, “We want North Korea to take steps –verifiable steps to its denuclearization before we reengage them.” And so, as a result — actually, US policy now for the last two years, it’s been termed strategic patience, it really hasn’t gotten us very far with the North Koreans because we’ve refused to engage them directly because they’ve not made any moves towards verifiable denuclearization. So, I would say Japan and South Korea both are on the side of playing it slow, making sure that they denuclearize first before we take additional steps.
Audience: So, with any other technology, I think nuclear weapons will be available to everyone sooner or later. Why are we so focused on non-proliferation?
Siegfried Hecker: Let’s see — no, don’t go away yet I want to make sure that I understand. You’re saying with all the other weapons and everything that are available?
Audience: Well, all the technologies that we have in this world like, firearms, it becomes available to everyone sooner or later, So Korea will come up with its own nuclear bomb and everyone else will come up with its own nuclear bomb sooner or later when they get smarter or more technologically advanced. Why are we so focused particularly on non-proliferation and stopping them from having a bomb? Everyone else in the region have it anyway.
Siegfried Hecker: Oh, okay. Well, you’re essentially asking why are we so focused on nuclear proliferation as such, right? Because the technology certainly, the knowledge has spread all over and so the issue then becomes, is the world less safe if more countries have their finger on the nuclear trigger, as such? If they have nuclear weapons and have their finger on the nuclear trigger — there is disagreement. There are some people who say the world will actually be safer because deterrents works. I personally think that that’s not the case. I personally think the more countries you have with nuclear weapons, even though the governments themselves might be more restrained, the fact that you then have both the nuclear weapons and you have fissile materials, let’s say reasonably ready for nuclear weapons into more hands does make it a more dangerous place. And particularly, to me, the single biggest threat is actually not the threat of governments having nuclear weapons or nuclear materials, but nuclear materials getting out of the hands of governments into the hands of terrorists where there will be little in terms of deterrents of being able to control the terrorists. So, I personally still think it’s a good idea to focus very hard on trying to limit the number of governments having nuclear weapons and having fissile materials. Probably the best example to give now is, essentially the only place in the world that I think there is the potential of a nuclear exchange in the, let’s say, reasonably near future, five to ten years, is India and Pakistan. We’d be much better off if India and Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons. And I can paint the scenario for you, I’ll just do it quickly because you raised a very important question.
India has substantially superior conventional weapons and a much larger army than Pakistan. Pakistan has supported over the years a number of terrorist organizations including one that perpetrated the Mumbai bombing. And if such an episode would happen again, it’s not clear that India wouldn’t do what the United States did with Afghanistan, is go in and say, “Okay, you Pakistan if you’re not going to care of your own terrorist organization we’re going to do it.” And when we do that, the only way that Pakistan might be able to push the Indians back is with nuclear weapons. Pakistan right now is building plutonium reactors — production reactors in order to make smaller nuclear weapons to repel an Indian attack. And the Indians are not helping matters either, by saying that they have to develop a submarine delivered weapon capability for a nuclear weapon. So when you see that sort of thing just between two countries, and then if you have a two body problem you change that to a three or four body problem, I just think the world would be a much more dangerous place with more nuclear weapons. Yes, whoever – you like to come up? By all means.
Audience: You said that nuclear weapons in government hands is a little safer than uncontrollable people hands…
Siegfried Hecker: Less dangerous.
Audience: Yes, right. But do you have any comments on what would happen when eventually North Korea regime collapses?
Siegfried Hecker: When the North collapses? Okay. Yes, so the question is, since I had talked about nuclear weapons being in governments’ hands and not in government’s hands. What’s the danger if North Korea collapses? So, I agree. That adds a substantial danger and that’s also I think one of the reasons why the Chinese actually do not want that government to collapse. And so, to me when I talk about accidents and miscalculations as one of the dangers, that’s precisely what I’m talking about. And so, I would be very concerned at that time if the North Korean regime collapses, if that collapse isn’t some sort of an orderly process, and most of the time these collapses aren’t, is what happens to the nuclear weapons? And so, yes, in North Korea right now that’s probably the single most important danger of the nuclear weapons themselves. So, I have no good answer for that. All I can tell you that is a significant risk.
Audience: I have two questions for you. First one, is when you meet North Koreans, do you see a difference of opinion between scientists –civilian scientists and the military? The second question is where are these people educated – the scientists? Are they educated in North Korea? Are they educated by the previous generation that was educated in Soviet Union? Where are they educated?
Siegfried Hecker: So, the first question related to the scientists in North Korea and let’s say, “Are they strictly military or are they civilian military?” First of all, I’ve had very limited access to the scientists and to the people of North Korea. I’ve traveled all over the world. I’ve been to Russia 42 times instead of seven times in North Korea. I’ve been in Russian homes. I’ve met the scientists. I’ve been in China. I’ve been in India. In North Korea, I meet no ordinary people. And the scientists that I’ve met are always in the presence of a handler from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so it’s very difficult to draw a good picture. However, in terms of putting the pieces together, and I’ve asked them this question, and so, I’ve had the interesting discussions. In essence, what the North Koreans do at Yongbyon is the scientists are trained at their universities, not at other universities, Kim il Sung and [Kim Chuck] and so forth. They trained at their universities, they then bring them in to Yongbyan and they have a technical institute in the Yongbyan where they continue to train them further. It’s actually a lot like the Indian model where they bring in people into the Bhabha Atomic Research Center and so forth and then continue to train them there. And then they stay there, essentially for a lifetime. And the mission at Yongbyan has been a dual purpose mission. They’re more interested in nuclear energy but the primary mission all along has been the bomb. And just if you look at the way that they have dealt with the nuclear complex, for example in terms of their health physics practices, everything around Yongbyan is just contaminated as can be. Again one of the lessons that one learns with respect to Japan, you know how to measure the most minute amounts of radioactivity. There’s a lot of contamination around Yongbyan, hasn’t bothered me going there because it’s not a health hazard, but it’s a mess. They do that because they feel they’re at war. So they’re really pushing their nuclear weapons program the most, but their scientists look at both.
And so right now, they have their scientists designing a light water reactor. So they’re doing civilian stuff. And then their weapons designers, I have not met any of their specific weapons designers. So, it’s not that different from an India, from a US program where the civilian and the military sort of merge together. In terms of their training it is all in-house in North Korea.
Audience: So, for the pretty pictures that you showed, how much of it is — did you truly trust or how much was it did you suspect was stage-managed? Like, children talking about Thomas Alva Edison. How much of the pretty pictures that you showed were real or would you suspect was stage-managed by the regime?
Siegfried Hecker: I’m sorry, I couldn’t quite understand because my hearing problem — so, what you’re asking — so I showed you all these photos, so how realistic or representatives are those, right? So, Pyongyang is not representative of the rest of North Korea. It’s like going to Moscow and saying that you saw Russia. There’s so much more to Russia than just Moscow and it’s the same here. So, first of all, everybody in Pyongyang tends to be better off than out in the countryside. So, first of all, it’s biased in that direction. I show all of these photos in order to actually show a contrast to what you normally see on television. However, I have also been out in the countryside and when you go to Yongbyon, you get out into the countryside. I have lots of those photos also. I have photos of people — individuals dragging carts with bricks and concrete on them by hand, of oxen going through the fields because out in the countryside you have much less equipment. But I’ve have been out there in their combines and I visited places, I’ve seen people. I visited the city of Sariwon which is down towards the border, considerable distance away from Pyongyang. And again, you just look there, you watch and you see, there’s much more activity, there’s much more industrial activity than you would expect.
And so to answer your question, mine are slanted towards showing the better side of North Korea. And the news media usually shows the concentration camps and other things. And the real truth is in between. I think the main message is — I grew up when I was a child in Austria after the Second World War, and I grew up living in barracks and we had nothing. But my parents sort of have figured out how to live in that environment, and I, as a kid, was the happiest kid in the whole world. I see a lot of that actually in North Korea. I see the kids playing soccer, out on the dirt field. That’s what I used to do. So they sort of figure out. Now the problem is that for the 1990s, they had in addition to being cut-off from Russia, since they are not getting much help from China, they had devastating floods and then also droughts. And so the 1990s, the North Korean economy was just decimated, and that was really a time when they say perhaps up to a million people starved. Situation is much better today than it was then and just in the seven years I have gone there, it’s just improved each time. And so one of the messages is, if we’re waiting for this regime to fall by itself, it isn’t going to do it very soon. Oh, there’s one more.
Audience: Hi. Dynastic regime seems to be quite difficult for the West to deal with. I think because the objectives of their governments are very different from the objectives of our governments, but it seems a part of the message of what you’ve been saying is that, dealing with Western democracies in particularly, presidential democracies is very difficult if you are a country taking a long term view. Because there can be an election and suddenly all policies change, things you are relying on are now false. I wonder if you could comment on this, what things –what the situation is like from the perspective of North Korea having to deal with the United States?
Siegfried Hecker: I agree very much with your comment of just the difficulties of these different systems. Not only the politics but the culture and history. So for example, just for the US to deal with China on the issue of North Korea, it’s just so different. The Chinese have this very long term view; they are not bothered by the next election. And the US, North Korea policy, in my opinion, is mostly driven by domestic politics. There are certain things that we could, and in my opinion, should do which would have us take some risks with the North Korean, but we can’t to do it because of domestic politics. I actually — another version of one of my North Korea talks, I actually saw what happened in three successive US administration in terms of North Korea Action and Policy. First was Clinton, then George W. Bush and now Obama. If you were sitting on the North Korean side and you look at that and you said, “My God, I don’t know what to do with this Americans.” And that’s actually what happened. In the Clinton administration, my colleague, Bill Perry, who was former Secretary of Defense, whom I teach with now at Stanford, he believes we came within three months of solving the North Korea problem because the Clinton Administration sort of worked-up through this, and Madeleine Albright actually went to North Korea, met with Kim Jung-il. President Clinton was scheduled to go to North Korea but time ran out. The North Korea were then waiting for us to continue that process instead — whether you like Bush administration or not, the fact of the matter is, they thought this agreed framework was fatally flawed and tried to do everything from the beginning to kill it. And so North Koreans hang around for about two years, trying to figure out, when is this stuff going to continue and it didn’t. And so they changed.
So then, what’s interesting, Bush Administration came around the last two years to reach back out to the North Koreans, but then the North Koreans were playing it sort of, stand back. And then the most dramatic transition was when the Obama Administration came in, I was there right there afterwards. We were expecting the North Koreans to reach out and in fact as you remember, President Obama says, “I will reach out my hand if you unclench your fist.” It turns out they not only clenched their fists but they hit them right between the eyeballs. And they did a long range missile test and followed with the nuclear test. And so then they decided after the previous switch of administration, this time they’re not taking any chances. And so, yes, you’re absolutely right. And this is where the political scientists and one of the beauties I should have said of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford, is we bring all of these folks together. The nuclear guys like myself, and people who really understand history, politics and everything which you have to understand in order to understand nuclear.
So, with that thank you ladies and gentlemen, thanks for your patience.