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Cooperative Verified Dismantlement of Nuclear Programs:  An Eye Toward North Korea

by David Albright and Corey Hinderstein

June 1, 2003

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Presented at the Institute for Nuclear Materials Management Annual Conference June 2003

Prepared for the Institute for Nuclear Materials Management (INMM) 44th Annual Meeting Phoenix, AZ Abstract: The admission by North Korea in October 2002 that they may be pursuing an unsafeguarded uranium enrichment program presents yet another obstacle to the goal of a nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula. Evidence indicates that the technology that North Korea is developing for uranium enrichment is the gas centrifuge. If North Korea were to disavow its uranium enrichment program, it will have to take significant steps to assure the international community of its commitment. The process of verifiable dismantlement of a gas centrifuge program has some precedent in the experience of Iraq and South Africa. In addition, the North Korean case presents specific obstacles. The inspection body will have to make decisions on the amount of information that North Korea needs to provide, in particular, how much information do the inspectors need about the design of the enrichment equipment; research, testing, and development activities; and production-scale activities. The verification tasks will also include methods to verify both the correctness and completeness of a declaration, the role of procurement information in verifying the dismantlement of a program, the amount and type of access to sites and facilities, and procedures for interviewing officials and scientists in the enrichment program. It will be critically important to identify steps aimed at ensuring irreversibility of the enrichment program. This may include the destruction of equipment, components, and documents, and the installation of ongoing monitoring activities. Because this type of verification task is unprecedented, it is now necessary to design a verifiable dismantlement procedure that takes the steps necessary to create a transparent dismantlement process and ensure that a proliferant state cannot reconstitute the enrichment program without timely detection by the international community.


Achieving the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will require the verified dismantlement of North Korea's sensitive nuclear programs. In the fall of 2002, the Bush Administration accused North Korea of having a secret gas centrifuge program that was within a few years of producing significant quantities of highly enriched uranium. In addition, in the spring of 2003, North Korea reportedly admitted to having nuclear weapons. The United States has stated that a negotiated solution to the current crisis requires North Korea to verifiably dismantle its gas centrifuge and nuclear weaponization programs. In addition, North Korea will have to take other verification steps, including reestablishing the "freeze" over its plutonium production facilities and coming into compliance with its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including resolving outstanding issues raised by the IAEA in the early 1990s. Although the timing of each of these steps is subject to negotiation, some type of verified dismantlement is envisioned to occur relatively early in the implementation of an agreement involving the United States and North Korea. Following requests for advice by US State Department officials in the fall of 2002 on verified dismantlement, ISIS staff started a project to understand better such potential arrangements in the Korean context. Although this project is an independent effort, its findings have informed the development of the State Department's guidelines on verified dismantlement of nuclear programs. The initial focus of ISIS's effort was on the dismantlement of gas centrifuge enrichment programs. ISIS is now focusing on verified means to dismantle nuclear weaponization programs and more detailed assessments of various steps in dismantling gas centrifuge programs. Useful lessons about verified dismantlement of nuclear programs have been gained in South Africa and Iraq. The former involved South Africa dismantling a small nuclear arsenal and associated production infrastructure in advance of joining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a nonnuclear weapon state. Iraq's nuclear programs were dismantled under the authority of the IAEA Action Team, which was created by the UN Security Council in 1991. Although the nature of the inspections in Iraq was often intrusive and confrontational, in some critical cases dismantlement occurred cooperatively. The US/Russian Cooperative Threat Reduction programs have also provided important lessons. In particular, these programs show the importance of ensuring irreversibility and developing effective conversion strategies. This paper outlines several of the major findings of ISIS's effort to date. The first section discusses general principles of verified dismantlement. The second section applies these principles to the verifiable dismantlement of a gas centrifuge program.

Cooperative Verified Dismantlement

In broad terms, cooperative verified dismantlement requires a state to voluntarily dismantle a nuclear program in cooperation with a verification organization. The goal is to obtain high confidence that the program no longer exists and reconstitution is difficult and likely to be detected relatively quickly or, at least, long before significant quantities of banned items are produced. In the model ISIS is considering, the state conducts the actual dismantlement, and the verification organization verifies that the dismantlement has occurred. Although the IAEA safeguards department is usually posited as the verification organization in such evaluations, other possibilities exist and may be more appropriate in certain cases. Negotiations may require the creation of another verification organization, or the specific disarmament tasks may require substantial expertise not normally found in the IAEA's safeguards department. For example, the safeguards department rarely has full-time experts in gas centrifuges or nuclear weaponization. Other options for the Korean peninsula include a specific organization created by the United States or other acknowledged nuclear weapon states (NWS), a hybrid of the IAEA and member states ("IAEA Plus"), or a bilateral or regional inspection agency. US officials have stated that the United States prefers IAEA Plus in the Korean context. North Korea has stated that it prefers a bilateral US/DPRK inspection agency. Because of the special expertise necessary to dismantle gas centrifuge or weaponization programs, a bilateral North/South Korean inspection agency is unlikely to be suitable to all parties. Verification can be applied to an entire nuclear program, such as the case of South Africa, or a single program, such as an enrichment program. If a single program is selected for verified dismantlement, the level of confidence about the absence of such activities is lower than if all nuclear programs are dismantled, and the whole state is subject to verification. Nonetheless, sufficient confidence can be obtained that a single program has been dismantled, if the verification organization has sufficient rights, expertise, and resources. However, a final determination about the lack of any undeclared activities in a specific program may need to await the application of comprehensive advanced safeguards. Dismantlement could happen either prior to the onset of verification activities or concurrent with verification. Concurrent dismantlement and verification is the preferred option because it can result in greater confidence. Accomplishing adequate verification after the dismantlement of a program is possible but more difficult and can take longer. Nonetheless, the IAEA was able to establish that South Africa had dismantled its entire nuclear weapons program several years after the dismantlement took place. Based on experiences in Iraq and South Africa, the most important prerequisite for the process to work is that the state believes that verified dismantlement is in its vital interests. According to former members of the South African nuclear weapons program, without such a belief verified dismantlement is unlikely to succeed. Other prerequisites include having a verification organization that is technically competent, professional, and politically fair. The process must be supported politically by all concerned parties. The procedures and ground-rules of verified dismantlement should be established in advance to the extent practicable, and both parties need to commit to solve future problems as they develop. The verification organization will need more extensive rights than established under the IAEA Model Protocol (INF/CIRC/540). Because the process of verified dismantlement occurs over a finite period of time, these extraordinary rights could be established on a temporary basis. For verified dismantlement to work, a state must make several transparency commitments to the verification organization. These include a commitment to:
  • Provide full cooperation;
  • Allow access "anywhere, anytime, and any place within reason." This is the same commitment that South Africa gave to the IAEA when it verifiably dismantled its nuclear weapons program;
  • Provide detailed declarations and other information;
  • Provide documents, including program documents, procurement data, or personnel records;
  • Allow interviews with program staff and officials; and
  • Permit environmental sampling at declared nuclear sites and elsewhere.
On the other hand, the verification organization must make several commitments. It must:
  • Possess extensive knowledge about the type of program to be dismantled;
  • Have the tools to ensure with a high degree of confidence that the program is dismantled, especially the ability to establish the completeness of any declaration; and
  • Act in a professional and fair manner and protect sensitive information.
Ensuring the irreversibility of the dismantlement process is essential. To achieve irreversibility, the state will need to destroy certain facilities, equipment, and documents. On-going monitoring of certain non-nuclear or dual-use activities may be necessary. To make the process less costly and facilitate re-employment of personnel, the dismantlement process should involve the conversion of parts of the program to other viable purposes. Nuclear programs often involve equipment and skills that can be converted to non-proscribed activities. The goal should be to create economically viable alternatives or enable the gradual transfer of program personnel to other allowed activities. In the case of North Korea, parties should explore opportunities for joint ventures. On-going monitoring of certain non-nuclear activities will likely be necessary once the dismantlement process is completed, particularly if some activities are converted to civilian purposes. In any case, all nuclear materials will require on-going monitoring. Whatever organization serves as the verification organization, the IAEA safeguards department is the best choice to conduct on-going monitoring of nuclear and non-nuclear activities or facilities. The creation and funding of a dismantlement program in North Korea is expected to be part of a larger agreement involving North Korea, the United States, and perhaps other states or international organizations. These negotiations should focus on creating the basic responsibilities, rules, and procedures for the dismantlement process for both the state and the verification organization. But funding of the dismantlement and conversion processes and methods to acquire additional funds as needed should be established during these negotiations. Both North Korea and the verification organization will require funds to accomplish their goals. In addition, conversion activities will require funds. The actual resources and number of personnel required by a specific verification organization will vary. The core effort is expected to require 5-10 specialists and a budget of several million dollars a year. The process of dismantling a gas centrifuge or weaponization program and its verification can be accomplished on order of a year, although the entire process of conversion and building confidence about the lack of undeclared activities is expected to take at least one more year. These core activities will need to be supplemented by support from IAEA member states. Critical support activities will include analysis of an expected large number of environmental samples, supplier information, and the provision of "third party" information. These costs are difficult to estimate but are expected to be borne by the member states individually. Conversion costs could easily exceed tens of millions of dollars. This activity will require the participation of the verification organization to fulfill its mandate, but the specific conversion activities should be funded from another source.

Verifiably Dismantling a Gas Centrifuge Program

North Korea's commitment to verifiably dismantle its uranium enrichment programs may be critical to achieving an agreement with the United States. As a result, designing an effective plan to dismantle a gas centrifuge program is necessary to do before negotiations start in earnest. Developing criteria and procedures to dismantle gas centrifuge programs could be useful in other countries. For example, Iran's gas centrifuge program may require verifiable dismantlement to address growing concerns that Iran will seek to produce highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. For the purposes of dismantlement, a gas centrifuge program must be defined broadly. A gas centrifuge program requires commitment and resources, and involves a large number of personnel. A centrifuge program needs to go through several stages to build an operational gas centrifuge facility, including:
  • The development of a prototype centrifuge;
  • The creation of research and development facilities;
  • The domestic and foreign procurement of necessary items;
  • The construction of centrifuge manufacturing capabilities and facilities and supporting infrastructure;
  • The production of uranium hexafluoride;
  • The construction of an experimental centrifuge cascade and pilot plant;
  • The construction of production-scale cascades; and
  • The creation of an infrastructure to maintain and improve centrifuges.
A verification organization is not defined here, although it could be IAEA Plus, which would be the IAEA safeguards department supplemented by gas centrifuge experts from several countries, particularly the United States, Russia, and Urenco-countries. Alternatively, the verification organization could be specially created. As mentioned above, the verification organization will need extensive rights. Key to the success of this effort would be access "anywhere, anytime, and any place within reason;" access to documents, including program documents and procurement information; interviews with program staff and officials; and environmental sampling at a wide variety of both declared and other sites. Typically, proliferant states' gas centrifuge programs have depended on extensive foreign procurement. As a result, the verification organization will need access to procurement information from the state. In addition, IAEA member states should agree to provide supplier information to the verification organization. With procurement information, the verification organization will have significantly better success at both properly defining the scope of the gas centrifuge program and ensuring that parts of it are not hidden. The following discusses a series of specific steps that lead to the verifiable dismantlement of a gas centrifuge program where dismantlement and verification occur concurrently. These steps illustrate the tasks that must be accomplished in almost any model. In addition, although many details of these steps need to be developed before they could be implemented in an actual situation. The main steps in verifiably dismantling a gas centrifuge program are:
  • Initial Meetings of the State and the Verification Organization;
  • Joint Tour of Main Facilities in the Centrifuge Program;
  • State's Declaration of its Centrifuge Program;
  • An Agreed Understanding of Centrifuge Program;
  • State Plan for Dismantlement;
  • Verification Organization's Plan;
  • State's Dismantlement of Centrifuge Program;
  • Verification Organization's Activities;
  • Verification of the Production of Any Enriched Uranium;
  • Conversion of the Program to Non-Centrifuge Use;
  • On-Going Monitoring;
  • Verification Organization's Conclusion; and
  • Initial Meetings of the State and the Verification Organization
This step involves a series of high-level technical discussions between the state and the verification organization that would take place before any dismantlement occurs. The meetings would discuss the joint process of verifiable dismantlement and seek agreement on a schedule and a set of procedures to carry out the dismantlement process. The meetings should also seek to identify problems requiring additional political decisions.

Joint Tour of Main Facilities in the Centrifuge Program

Tours of the main facilities would familiarize experts from the verification organization with the state's gas centrifuge program. The focus would be visits to the main centrifuge sites, including the research, development, testing, and manufacturing facilities and any sites with operational centrifuges. During these visits, the verification organization's experts would gain a familiarity with the state's design, development, testing, and production of centrifuges. Such an understanding must include a historical understanding of the program and the program's goals.

State's Declaration of Centrifuge Program

The state must produce a comprehensive declaration of its gas centrifuge program, reflecting initial discussions with the verification organization and the tour of the facilities. The declaration should include details of centrifuge design, development, manufacturing, and operation. It needs to include a history of the program, including a chronology of major political and technical milestones of the program. It should also include major planned future goals and timelines. The declaration should provide detailed information about the foreign procurement of key items for the centrifuge program.

An Agreed Understanding of the Centrifuge Program

The verification organization must develop a coherent technical understanding of the centrifuge program in close consultation with the state. The verification organization needs to understand the origin, scope, and timing of the program. This understanding should be based on a detailed study of the declaration, a review of documents, and discussions with program officials, scientists, and technicians.

State Plan for Dismantlement

The state should develop a comprehensive plan to dismantle its program. The government may form a senior experts' committee to investigate methods to dismantle the program and draw up a schedule. The state should develop its plans in consultation with the verification organization.

Verification Organization's Plan

The verification organization must develop its own plan to verify the dismantlement of the program. It must identify actions necessary to take in order to achieve effective and timely verification. The verification organization should develop its plans in consultation with the state. This plan must detail the steps necessary for ensuring that items are destroyed or converted to non-prohibited uses and developing confidence that secret centrifuge activities or capabilities do not exist.

Joint Agreement of a Plan to Dismantle the Program

The state and verification organization agree on a plan to verifiably dismantle the program that incorporates the above plans and concerns of each party. Key agreements would include the exact items subject to destruction, conversion, or on-going monitoring. Careful records of dismantlement activities would be developed and maintained by both parties.

Dismantlement of Program

Based on the joint plan, the state would dismantle the program and convert equipment and materials to other, non-proscribed uses. Many items would need to be destroyed. Others would be converted to other uses. Buildings or facilities would not, in general, be subject to destruction. Included in the destruction plan would be whole centrifuges, major centrifuge components, and cascade equipment. Destruction is accomplished by smashing, cutting, or other methods to disable the item against future use. Certain centrifuge manufacturing equipment may be rendered unusable for future use in a centrifuge program. Rendering a machine tool unusable may involve destroying special fixtures or computer programs that enable the machine to make centrifuge components. Sensitive designs, documents, and blueprints should be destroyed, possibly by burning. Although ensuring the destruction of all records is impossible, such a step nonetheless helps develop confidence that the state intends to comply.

Activities of Verification Organization

The verification organization would witness the entire process of dismantlement and conversion. It would implement the agreed upon program to verify the dismantlement of the program. The verification organization will need to ensure that the state is not hiding portions of its centrifuge program. To achieve this goal, the verification organization will need to use its rights, and it may conduct a series of inspections throughout the country, In this effort, procurement information from both North Korea and supplier states may be critical in reaching a final determination.

Verifying the Production of Enriched Uranium

The verification process would focus on ensuring the accuracy and completeness of any state declaration that the centrifuge program produced enriched uranium. It would use internationally accepted methods, including material balance and accounting procedures and environmental sampling, to verify any declaration. Three cases would need to be considered. The first case is no enriched uranium was produced. The second case is the production of a small quantity consistent with research and development activities. The third case is the production of larger amounts of enriched uranium and is the most difficult one.

Converting Program to Non-Centrifuge Use

Facilities and certain equipment or materials should be evaluated jointly to decide what to convert to alternative, allowed uses. The purpose would be to continue to employ program personnel in productive work. The priority would be to create economically viable programs or joint ventures. For example, clean-room facilities could be converted to other, allowed high technology uses. Machine tools could be assigned other industrial uses.

On-Going Monitoring

On-going monitoring of certain non-nuclear activities may be necessary. Nuclear material will require on-going monitoring. The organization verifying the dismantlement may not be the best organization to conduct on-going monitoring.

Verification Organization's Conclusion

At the end of the agreed process, the verification organization would reach and announce a conclusion that the program has been dismantled according to the agreed plan, and on-going monitoring has been successfully implemented.


The task of verifiably dismantling a nuclear program can appear daunting, but this task has been accomplished by states willing to make the necessary political commitment and provide sufficient resources. These experiences translate into reasonable models that can be applied elsewhere. With the growing need to develop verifiable dismantlement guidelines and models, ISIS recommends the creation and testing of detailed models of verifiable dismantlement of gas centrifuge and nuclear weaponization programs for application in North Korea and elsewhere.

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