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Nigeria, quest for nuclear power energy in the 21st Century

nuclear power energyNUCLEAR proliferation/disputed nuclear power development programme: case studies across the globe: Generally, nuclear power energy related development programmes have been generating controversy between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and some aspiring nations across the globe.

Elementarily, the disputes are speculated not to be unconnected with undeclared nuclear activities and the perceived diversion of nuclear materials outside the safeguards of IAEA.

There has also been this impression since the late 1980’s that, some states are assumed to be carrying out nuclear activities entirely separate from those covered by the IAEA safeguards which ideally, national intelligence network should have detected but remained a mystery.

Undeclared nuclear activities

Consequently, it is these undeclared nuclear activities, couple with the perceived diversion of nuclear materials in pursuit of what come to be seen as extensive clandestine uranium enrichment programme that creates the impression that a country may secretly engage in nuclear weapon design programme.

This indeed, is the source of contention between IAEA with countries like North Korea: South Korea, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Syria, South Africa, etc. In the proceeding paragraphs we shall examine some selected case studies for analytical purposes.

North Korea: The international community has accused North Korea of having made weapons-grade plutonium using a research reactor and a reprocessing plant in defiance of its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations.

In years 2006 and 2009 it was said to have exploded nuclear devices. It was subsequently brought to the attention of the International Community through the UN Security Council.

North Korea’s nuclear power programme is said to have ben under Kim II-Sung in the mid-1950s, when the country’s scientists started practical training courses at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Duhna in the then Soviet Union.

There, they were said to have studied electronic physics, radiochemistry, high-energy physics and other related subjects respectively. These efforts were initially reported to be focused on the peaceful use of atomic energy.

Furthermore, Soviet-North Korean agreements of the time is said to have specifically emphasized the peaceful nature of the bilateral cooperation in the nuclear technology.

To further facilitate the ideals of the Soviet-North Korean agreement, an inter governmental deal on cooperation in the field of atomic energy was reported to have been signed in 1959, which is said to have laid down the foundation for joint nuclear activities between the two countries.

Other North Korean scientists thereafter were said to have received their educational training in the defunct East Germany and China respectively.

In 1961, North Korea is reported to have launched a major nuclear development programme in Yougbyon, some 60 miles north of Pyongyang. In 1965, the then Soviet Union is said to have provided North Korea with a 2MWIRT-2000 research reactor for the Yougbyon nuclear facility, and supplied fuel over the years of the reactor’s operation.

Volume of electricity

During the 1980s, the North Korean government is reported to have realized the significance of light-water reactors (LWRs) to be better suited in producing large volume of electricity, for which there was a growing demand in the country.

The North Korean nuclear power energy is said to have received a boast with the offer by the then Soviet Union to assist with nuclear technology and materials, provided North Korea signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which the country complied by signing in December 1985. In 1987 the then Soviet Union is said to have began to conduct several feasibility studies to build the desired three North Korean light-water reactors at Sinpo on the country’s cash coast.

Controversies: Some of the areas of contention between North Korea and the International Community as being speculated are as follows:

(i) Plutonium Programme: In the late 1985, North Korea is speculated to have brought into operation a small gas-cooled, graphite-moderated natural-uranium (metal) fuelled, purportedly for “Experimental Power Reactor of which it has capacity for 25 MWt at Yongbyon, on the west coast 55km north of Pyongyang.

The said facility is reported to have exhibited all the features of a plutonium production reactor usually meant for nuclear weapons purposes and said to produced only about 5-MW of electricity. Similarly, North Korea is accused to have embarked on the construction of two larger reactors designed on the same principles, a prototype of about 2000 MWt (50MW electivity) at Yongbyon, and a full-scale version of about 800MWt (200 MW electricity) at Taechon, 25km north of Yongbyon respectively;

(ii) In addition, North Korea is speculated to have completed and commissioned a reprocessing plant for the extraction of plutonium for spent reactor fuel. That plutonium, it is argued if the fuel was only irradiated to a very low burn-up, would have been in a form very suitable for nuclear weapons.

Although, all those facilities cited above in Yongbyon are expected to be under the IAEA safeguards, the fears are that, there was always the risk that at certain stage, North Korea may withdraw its commitment to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which its signed in December 1985;

(iii)It is also argues that, one of the first steps to ascertain commitment to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards is for the IAEA to verify the initial stocks of uranium and plutonium to ensure that all the nuclear materials in a country have been declared for safeguards purposes.

While undertaking this exercise in 1992, the IAEA inspectors were reported to have found discrepancies which indicated that the reprocessing plant had been used more often than the North Korean had declared. Such action was perceived to mean that the country could have nuclear weapons-grade plutonium which may not have been declared to the IAEA;

(iv)Consequent upon this discovery, the IAEA said to have requested the North Korean Government in February 1993 to allow special inspections of the two sites so as to verify the initial stocks of nuclear materials.

The North-Korean government is said to have refused, and proceeded further to announced its intention in March 12, 1993 to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by given the required (three months notice).

In April 1993, the IAEA Board is said to have concluded that North Korea was in non-compliance with its safeguards obligations and thus reported the matter to the UN Security Council.

Although the North Koreans were said to have made diplomatic efforts to secure certain immunity in June 1993 by announcing that it has ‘suspended’ its withdrawal from the NPT, and subsequently requested a “special status” with respects to its safeguards, the IAEA is said to have rejected the move with the purported “special status” safeguards;

(v)The dispute between the North Korean governments due to what the IAEA described as non-compliance was speculated to have been reported to the UN Security Council. Inspections in the country were said to have been increasingly hampered, as inspectors were not permitted to carry out the IAEA assignment based on the North Korean claimed of a “special status”.

However, some 8000 corroding fuel rods associated with the experimental reactor were reported to remain under close surveillance by the international community. Making any attempt to separate plutonium from them were said to have been deferred in the event, for eight years;

Nuclear reactor programme

(vi)  An attempt to mediate in the crisis/dispute, the United States and North Korea are reported to have signed an agreement in October 1994 which requires an end to the North Korean graphic-moderated nuclear reactor programme, including the construction of a 200 MW electricity power reactor at Taechon in exchange for the construction of two 1000 MW electricity light-water reactors at Kumbo. The construction of these two facilities were said to have started in year 2000 by the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation, but had to be suspended by year 2003 due largely to the dispute;

(vii) Under the Six-Party Talks involving China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States of America held in 19 September 2005, North Korea is said to have pledged to end all its nuclear programme and return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, submitting to international inspectors to return for certain benefits including energy aid and normalization of relations with Japan and the United States respectively;

(viii) However, despite these peaceful initiatives, in October 2006, North Korea is reported to have tested a nuclear weapon underground near Gilju in the north-east of the country, and the whole matter was referred to the UN Security Council.

Mallam Maiyaki is of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA),Lagos.

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