Solving the North Korean Nuclear Puzzle

Appendix 3: Setting the Record Straight about Plutonium Production in North Korea

David Albright and Holly Higgins
Institute for Science and International Security, 2000

In debating the merits of the Agreed Framework, critics have repeatedly charged that the provision of the two light-water reactors (LWRs) to North Korea will actually enhance North Korea's ability to make nuclear weapons, compared to its pre-Agreed Framework nuclear capability. A typical version of this criticism was distributed on April 11, 2000 by the House Policy Committee, chaired by Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA), that stated that "the plutonium produced by the new light-water reactors U.S. taxpayers are financing can be reprocessed to arm 65 bombs a year-more than five times as many" that could have been produced from facilities North Korea was building on its own.

This appendix discusses the fallacies in these types of statements. It is correct that LWRs produce these quantities of plutonium. But these types of statements ignore the plutonium that would have been produced in the third, and largest, gas-graphite reactor that North Korea was building. They also ignore or downplay the difficulty of chemically separating the plutonium from the spent LWR fuel compared to spent gas-graphite reactor fuel.

Plutonium Production and Separation

Clandestine Plutonium Production