Home / Robert Farley / Pu Transfer?

Pu Transfer?


Now this is fascinating. Jeffrey Lewis discusses a startling claim by AQ Khan:

Simon Henderson and I disagreed on an issue related to the broader question of whether North Korean officials really showed AQ Khan three nuclear weapons.  I said North Korea didn’t have enough fissile material, while Henderson referred me to one of his articles stating that North Korea “is already sitting on a stockpile of highly enriched uranium courtesy of Stalin, the Soviet leader.”

I didn’t find that statement credible and asked about its provenance. “Is this yet another of Khan’s assertions in these documents?” I wrote. “If so, this further undermines his credibility and demonstrates the need to place these documents in the public record to allow others to examine their contents.”

So, now we have the actual sentence from Khan’s statement:  North Korea “had also manufactured a few weapons as, according to Gen. Kang’s boss, they had received Kg 200 plutonium and weapon designs from the Russians in the mid-fifties after the Korean War.”

Lewis has some exceedingly compelling reasons why we shouldn’t take this claim seriously.  There’s no evidence of the transfer in the Soviet archives, it would have represented a huge Soviet investment, etc.  Lewis theorizes that Khan is trying to absolve himself of responsibility for helping North Korea develop a weapon, which seems entirely reasonable to me.  Nevertheless, an interesting read.

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  • wengler

    I can’t think of any reason why Stalin would have transferred ANY fissile material to North Korea.

    Khan would’ve been better off saying that the North Koreans stole it from Russia in the early ’90s.

  • RepubAnon

    Maybe Stalin was just trying to help OJ look for the real killers…


  • I am with Lewis. If this was true the Soviet archives would have revealed something to Russian scholars by now. After all they have candidly admitted the role of the Soviet Airforce and Russian Korean soldiers in supported the DPRK duirng the Korean War. Certainly in the period of 89-94 when the Russian archives were most open, some dissident or other researcher would have found some hint of something so big. Absent any independent evidence it just makes no sense. The Soviet Union refused to help the Chinese in their nuclear weapons program and it is one of the causes of the Sino-Soviet split. Why would a paranoid Soviet leadership give any nuclear material to Kim Il Sung? North Korea had less leverage with the USSR than China. Wengler’s right, theft in the ealry 90s is a more plausibe story.

    • c u n d gulag

      Yup, there was no way Stalin and the Soviets were handing anything out at that point.

      First off, the armistice in the Korean War was signed 4 months AFTER Stalin died. And why would Stalin have given NK anything without a settlement of the war, and with the PRC on the northern border, wanting nuclear weapons of their own?
      It makes no sense.

      And it took awhile for Kruschev to consolidate power after Stalin’s death, with Malenkov, Molotov (who really didn’t want to be the leader) and a host of others fighting for positioning. And I don’t think any of them would have given NK any nuclear material. Would YOU give anything like that to NK?

      So, yeah, if they got it from the Russians at all, they got some rogue material in the early 90’s.

      • rea

        Note tht “Stalin” (as well as the enriched uranium/plutonium confusion) is Henderson garbling A. Q. Khan’s claim–the latter said simply “mid-50’s”.

  • herr doktor bimler

    they had received Kg 200 plutonium and weapon designs from the Russians in the mid-fifties after the Korean War.

    What’s the use-before date for a Pu weapon?

    • The Pale Scot

      A really long time.

      IF the Pu is enriched and has been fabricated into a “pit” (the sphere at the heart of a bomb).

      The nuclear lobby in the USA is having a problem convincing anyone that the pits made in the 50’s-60’s need to be replaced. The half-life of Pu 239 is 24,100 years.

      And if the pits did loss too much 239, you could use neutron reflectors to re-enhance the yield. That is if you’re crazy enough to play with criticality without a net (control rods). A fool at Los Alamos tried that with a reflector and a screwdriver and killed himself and half the people in the room from the neutron burst. The pit however, did exceed design specs when it was used.

      In the 50’s 200 Kg’s of 239 would have been a huge amount of Pu to hand out to anyone.

  • Ralph Hitchens

    I’m aware thru lab-to-lab trip reports (from US national lab scientists) back in the early 1990s of allusions to Soviet nuclear weapon scientists visiting North Korea, probably in the 1980s. Earlier doesn’t make much sense, and fissile material transfer that long ago makes even less sense. Interesting story, though.

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