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Ex-IAEA official says N. Korean denuclearization process must be large scale: interview

Former IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen. (Mainichi)

WASHINGTON -- Former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Olli Heinonen said in a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun that any North Korean denuclearization process must be on a much larger scale than those for South Africa or Libya due to Pyongyang's advanced state of nuclear weapons development, and will require the involvement of monitoring researchers to stop the proliferation of relevant technologies.

South Africa abandoned its six nuclear weapons by the early 1990s as the security environment surrounding the country improved and the de Klerk administration back then wanted a boost for its efforts to effectively abandon the apartheid policy and return to the international community. Libya, for its part, transferred all of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program to the United States and Britain around 2004 in return for the lifting of sanctions.

Heinonen told the Mainichi Shimbun on May 23 that denuclearizing North Korea "has to be very different (from that for South Africa or Libya) ... It has missile programs, it has done half a dozen nuclear tests, it's producing plutonium, it's producing uranium, so the whole ball game will be very different." Heinonen was a nuclear inspection specialist at the IAEA and has visited North Korea 25 times.

The lessons of South Africa and Libya show that confirming the volume of the materials for nuclear devices and monitoring their production facilities alone were not enough to prevent future proliferation of nuclear technologies, said Heinonen. "It's important that monitoring, which will be there during the denuclearization and after, looks at people, institutes, but also the manufacturing companies, so that they don't go to give the service to other countries."

In South Africa, according to Heinonen, the nuclear weapons program continued for more than 20 years, and its end left the manufacturers involved with two choices: find new clients, or start to produce something else. Some of them decided to look for new nuclear customers and found the notorious illicit procurement network of nuclear materials organized by A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani "father of the atomic bomb." "We should have paid more attention to the industrial infrastructure after the dismantlement of the nuclear program" in South Africa, said Heinonen.

Heinonen said North Korea's denuclearization must start with "a full, complete declaration of its nuclear weapons program from 1952 until today, the whole story, including weapons, institutes, materials, people, and locations, including nuclear and also the explosives and others, everything, in a kind of big declaration."

Then IAEA experts should "get together with North Korea and look at how to do the dismantlement in such a way that it's irreversible and we get all the information needed," according to Heinonen.

Removing nuclear weapons out of North Korea using aircraft or other means of transportation could be dangerous. "If there is a way that you get only the nuclear material out of it, then it will be easy to transfer. And the rest, you just blow them up," said Heinonen. Making a system of transferring the nuclear materials "should not take longer than one year, maybe half a year," he added.

The freezing and dismantling of nuclear reactors and reprocessing plants for producing fissile materials would take "months or maybe up to one year," Heinonen said. The process must be designed in such a way that the facilities cannot be used again. But their high radioactivity will require the work to be done in a well-planned manner, according to the former IAEA deputy director general.

Regarding the possibility that North Korea has more nuclear weapons facilities other than the one in Yongbyon, Heinonen said they may exist. "If you want to build a nuclear weapon secretly, why would you put it in Yongbyon? I think this is to show capabilities," he said.

(Japanese original by Haruyuki Aikawa, North America General Bureau)

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