North Korea’s nuclear “disablement”: déjà vu all over again?

One week ago, North Korea missed a critical deadline in its bid to re-enter the international community. According to the six-nation process for the north’s nuclear disarmament (referred to as “disablement” for the sake of politeness), the north was supposed to submit detailed reports on its nuclear materials, equipment, facilities, and programmes. It didn’t, at least not to the satisfaction of the United States.

China appears to agree. There is now another media negotiation in progress, this time through China’s Xinhua news agency (see article). The Xinhua article is polite and even-handed, and points out the north’s desire to be removed from the U.S.’s list of rogue nations. But when you read between the lines you get the impression China is telling North Korea to just cough up the information.

Back in October, North and South Korea reached a separate agreement on getting nuclear weapons out of the Korean Peninsula. I speculated at the time that this could spell opportunities for Atomic Energy Canada Limited, the maker of the famous CANDU reactor. South Korea is a major driving force behind developing DUPIC, a process for burning spent fuel directly in CANDUs. If the deal with the north holds, South Korea can get the green light from the U.S. to commercialize DUPIC on the Korean Peninsula.

History has shown that all nuclear deals with North Korea are subject to change without notice, and last week’s missed deadline underlines this. The new South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, apparently blames the north’s unreliability in part on the lenient and open-ended policies of his predecessors. He has therefore indicated he will make South Korean financial aid to the north contingent on actual nuclear cooperation.

Go Lee, go. The sooner the nuclear situation in Korea stabilizes, the sooner the south can work out the grid-readiness of DUPIC. DUPIC is the most proliferation-resistant way for the U.S. to reprocess its gigantic stockpile of spent fuel.

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