Interview with Professor Tatsujiro Suzuki on North Korea’s nuclear test

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

How far has North Korea’s nuclear development program advanced? What measures might help prevent the country from making another nuclear test? The Chugoku Shimbun spoke with Dr. Tatsujiro Suzuki, 58, Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Tokyo and an expert in nuclear non-proliferation.

What was your reaction to North Korea’s second nuclear test?
North Korea declared in April that it had resumed operations at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which was in the process of being shut down. I had some concern, but the test was carried out earlier than I expected. I thought it would take about six months to extract plutonium after operations at the reprocessing facility had resumed.

How do you assess the advance of North Korea’s nuclear programs?
North Korea’s previous nuclear test was estimated to have the explosive power of less than one kiloton. If the amount and quality of the plutonium used for the recent nuclear test is the same as that of the previous one, their technological capability for the triggering device must have improved. Still, we shouldn’t conclude that their capability has increased significantly.

If we overreact to the nuclear test, it will make North Korea feel more confident that nuclear weapons are an effective card for negotiation. This is problematic in terms of nuclear disarmament. We must make sure that the trend toward a world without nuclear weapons, as U.S. President Barack Obama has advocated, should not be hindered by this nuclear test.

What can be done to prevent North Korea from continuing with further nuclear tests?
As part of the denuclearization process based on the six-party talks, last year North Korea demolished the cooling tower of its graphite-moderated reactor for experimenting with plutonium production. But the reprocessing facility was not dismantled and not, in a strict sense, totally disabled, which enabled the restart of its operation.

If plutonium is extracted, the country can increase its stock of materials for nuclear weapons. I know it’s difficult, but the only solution is to have North Korea return to the six-party talks and resume the process of denuclearization.

What tactics would be effective for nuclear non-proliferation?
There are various ways to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation, such as commercially-based uranium enrichment or multinational operations for reprocessing.

On the other hand, small-scale research and development facilities are potentially more dangerous than commercially-operated facilities. Nuclear development in countries other than North Korea, such as India, has been carried out at R&D facilities. I have been suggesting that uranium enrichment and R&D for reprocessing be operated not by individual countries but internationally.

If Japan moves forward with the development of its own reprocessing program and does not abide other countries’ R&D, it is an unconvincing stance. Japan should advocate the internationalization of R&D facilities, including its own, and lead other nations in the area of non-proliferation.

Dr. Tatsujiro Suzuki
Professor Suzuki is a senior research scientist at the Socio-economic Research Center of the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry in Tokyo. He also serves as a council member of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, a scientists’ organization dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons. His main fields of research include nuclear policy analysis and nuclear non-proliferation.

(Originally published on May 29, 2009)

Related articles
Permanent UNSC members, Japan, S. Korea drafting resolution on North (May 27, 2009)
N. Korea announces nuclear test, fires 3 short-range missiles (May 26, 2009)