The news out of Japan is sobering, and worrisome in the extreme. Even with fairly (but obviously not rigorous) checks in place, the Japanese nuclear accident has taken place, and the radioactivity is now finding its way around the world. No one really knows just how bad it will be by the time all is said and done, but we know they are readying the concrete coffins-a sure sign that this is a monumental disaster of proportions that will dwarf Chernobyl.
Japan is bad, to be sure. But haven’t you wondered how much worse it could be? Let’s say there was a place that was using antiquated technology, and safety precautions were nearly non-existent. Let’s also say that this place is in an earthquake-prone area. If THAT kind of a place were to be stricken by a huge natural disaster, can you imagine how many might be irradiated? Killed? How much land might be rendered uninhabitable for eons? How much air and water might be poisoned?
You might just get the chance to find out. Listen to what people in the know about the Yongbyon facility in the DPRK have to say about it.
The fear of radiation coming from Japan is spreading in South Korea, and this is raising public unease about the safety of North Korean nuclear facilities. Indeed, Dr. Siegfried Hecker, the American nuclear scientist who revealed news of North Korea’s uranium enrichment facility to the world following his visit to the country in November of last year has warned that the security of North Korea’s nuclear facilities is a very urgent problem.
North Korea’s nuclear facilities are concentrated in the area of Yongbyon in North Pyongan Province. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), there is a 5-MW experimental IRT-2000 reactor built in 1965 and a 5MW experimental reactor built in 1986 on the site, in addition to processing and storage locations and the newly-revealed uranium enrichment facility.
Therefore, one concern is that people living in the Yongbyon area might have been exposed to radioactivity. Some North Korean defectors have testified to cases of birth deformities in the area. One, Kim Si Hyuk, who defected from North Pyongan Province in 2009, told The Daily NK, “There were a lot of rumors saying that women from Yongbyon couldn’t give birth, and even that they were reluctant to give birth due to fear of their children being born wrong.”
Another North Korean defector from North Pyongan Province mirrored the story, saying, “Due to the Yongbyon research laboratory, single women living in the surrounding area all wanted to escape from there. Especially, there were many people who contracted hepatitis. Everyone tried to leave the area even though the nation offered special treatment like that offered in Pyongyang and supplies were good.”
Kim Dae Ho, who served as the vice-president of a nuclear waste processing company under Namcheon Chemical Complex, part of the Ministry of Atomic Energy Industry and worked in the Yongbyon nuclear facility until he escaped from North Korea 1994, also agreed, stating on his blog, “North Korea’s nuclear facilities release nuclear waste recklessly, so contamination is severe.”
However, it may be that concerns over the safety of nuclear facilities at Yongbyon are somewhat over the top. Most of the defectors from North Pyongan Province who gave phone interviews to The Daily NK had not heard of any harm being caused, though this by no means guarantees that it has not.
Nuclear experts also evaluate that since North Korea’s nuclear facilities are small and there is safety equipment in place, damage is unlikely to be too great. Also, they point out that measurements by the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety suggest that radioactivity at the site is not severe.
However, experts are anxious about the ongoing construction of a light water reactor (LWR) at Yongbyon.
This is because while the two existing nuclear reactors at Yongbyon produce, together, just one-one hundredth of the level of the output of the No.1 reactor at Fukushima, the light water reactor which North Korea is building at Yongbyon is a different case. It, which North Korea has publicly announced will be complete by 2012 (though experts call this almost impossible), will be able to produce 25~30MW.
While North Korea will, of course, install safety features in the new reactor unit as well, experts still worry that nothing can be guaranteed given that North Korea’s safety oversight is seriously deficient.
Lee Eun Chul, a professor from Seoul National University, commented, “Based on satellite photos of Yongbyon nuclear facility in 1994, their welding techniques seemed to be lacking. It also seems security is somewhat neglected; however, it does not appear that a direct problem will occur in the short term.”
In addition, Professor Lee went on, “North Korea’s experimental nuclear reactor is small, and therefore it will not produce a big accident unless an explosion or electricity generation accident occurs. But if the quantity of nuclear fuel consumed increases, many radioactive products will be created at a time when safety techniques are lacking.”
And Yongbyon most assuredly sits in an earthquake zone to boot. Their little reactor could produce a disaster of epic proportions all by itself, and never mind what the authorities are saying; these are, after all, the same people who touted the safety of Japanese reactors.
Just imagine that place with a whole bunch of extra waste in it. In a land full of people who are more worried about starving than they are about any nuke problems that may occur. People under the gun to get this NEW nuke facility completed in record time.