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NightWatch 20111107

NightWatch

For the night of 7November 2011

North Korea: A South Korean official leaked a report that North Korea is close to being able to produce a small number of nuclear weapons per year through its uranium enrichment program (UEP) at the country's main nuclear plant at Yongbyon.

The official claimed the UEP at the Yongbyon nuclear complex is a "small industry" that can be used to "mass" produce atomic weapons, citing reports that there are some 2,000 centrifuges located there.

"It seems that North Korea has completed 70 percent of the process to be able to make one or two nuclear weapons per year," the official told Yonhap News on the margins of a disarmament conference on the resort island of Jeju, South Korea.

Pyongyang may have spent at least nine years establishing its UEP at Yongbyon, the official said, adding it is hard to monitor the nuclear facility.

Comment: The charge is serious but the normal terminology is Highly Enriched Uranium, when referring to weapons grade fissile material. Uranium needs to be enriched for producing electricity as well as for producing weapons grade fissile material. That means the UEP could be for benign uses.

What is missing in the report is any estimate of the percent of enrichment. HEU for weapons grade uranium is 85% or higher.

For the sake of comparison, the Iranian program, according to open sources, is known to have achieved about 20% enrichment, which is required in commercial nuclear reactors for power generation. Enrichment above 20%, according to the experts, is considered highly enriched but not weapons grade. That begins at 80%.

The North Koreans have been trying for two decades to enrich uranium, with Pakistani help when A.Q. Khan was at liberty. Nevertheless, the evidence of success in the public domain is absent.

It seems no accident that the South Koreans would find an increased threat in North Korea at the same time the International Atomic Energy Agency found an increased threat in Iran. It looks a bit like a media contest.

Pakistan-India: For the record. Pakistan has not accorded India most favored nation status, according to Prime Minister Gilani, contradicting international news reports.

Italy: Fifteen year high yields on ten-year government bonds indicate Italy is the next European domino under threat. Spain and France might follow. Italy is too big to fail and too big to fix, according to one news analyst.

End of NightWatch for 7 November.

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