U.S. scientist warns against hyping North Korea threat

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – The world should take the threat from North Korea’s apparent uranium enrichment program seriously but should not hype it, the U.S. nuclear scientist who saw hundreds of centrifuges there said on Tuesday.

The scientist, Stanford University’s Siegfried Hecker, told a briefing if the North wanted fissile material for bombs it would have made more sense for it to reactivate its plutonium-based program rather than pursue uranium enrichment.

Hecker spoke to reporters after his revelations about Pyongyang’s nuclear program and a North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean island on Tuesday ratcheted up tension on the divided peninsula.

Hecker speculated that a motive for the North showing him hundreds of centrifuges during a rare visit by a U.S. scientist on November 12 was to demonstrate a uranium enrichment program with a “cover story” — that this was to develop fuel to power a light water reactor.

North Korean officials told Hecker there were 2,000 at the plant he saw.

The disclosure of the North’s centrifuges has buttressed the case that the North has a uranium enrichment program. This could give it a second pathway to fissile material for bombs in addition to its plutonium-based program, which was frozen under an earlier disarmament-for-aid deal.

Hecker, however, stressed that people should not exaggerate the potential threat from Pyongyang, which many experts say is engaged in a game of brinkmanship with the West over its nuclear ambitions.

“Take threat seriously, but don’t hype it,” Hecker said in an appearance at Washington’s Korea Economic Institute.

North Korea often uses Hecker, a former director of the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory where the atomic bomb was developed, as its preferred foreign scientist to demonstrate its nuclear capabilities. In 2004 they showed him a sample of plutonium.

A colleague who accompanied Hecker to North Korea, Stanford University’s Robert Carlin, said the North had told the small U.S. team that the North would have nuclear weapons for a long time unless and until the United States satisfied Pyongyang’s concerns on security.

North Korea has said it wants to restart nuclear disarmament talks it walked out of two years ago, but both Seoul and Washington have said Pyongyang must first show sincerity in its pledges to denuclearize.

U.S. scientist warns against hyping North Korea threat