WASHINGTON – A top Trump administration says North Korea’s nuclear weapons should be shipped to East Tennessee if that rogue regime makes good on its promise to dismantle its nuclear-testing program.
In a television interview Sunday, National Security Adviser John Bolton said North Korea’s nuclear weapons should be totally dismantled and sent to Oak Ridge, where the U.S. Department of Energy operates a national research laboratory and a nuclear weapons complex.
Denuclearization of North Korea “means getting rid of all the nuclear weapons, dismantling them, taking them to Oak Ridge,” Bolton said on ABC’s This Week. “It means getting rid of the uranium enrichment and plutonium processing capabilities. It means addressing the ballistic missile issue. A lot of things like that.”
Bolton did not say whether the weapons should be stored at Oak Ridge National Laboratory or the nearby Y-12 National Security Complex, whose primary mission is nuclear weapons production.
But the Y-12 facility is where equipment and documents from Libya’s nuclear and ballistic program were shipped and stored after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi agreed to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction in 2003.
Officials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 complex did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
White House officials are ratcheting up pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in advance of a summit between him and President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12, where the two leaders are expected to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Both sides say they hope for a breakthrough.
But some experts have expressed deep skepticism about Kim’s intentions, noting that he is a master at propaganda and may renege on his promises.
North Korea declared in April that it would suspend nuclear and missile testing, and North Korean leaders announced over the weekend they would take the first steps in less than two weeks to dismantle the country’s nuclear test site.
American officialssay the U.S. objective is the complete dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program and the elimination of its weapons stockpile. It is not clear what, if anything, North Korea will agree to at the summit or what Kim means by denuclearization.
Even if Kim agrees to get rid of his weapons, the denuclearization process could be costly and take years. Bolton has said previously that the dismantling of Libya’s nuclear program could serve as a model. But while Libya had a nuclear weapons program, it had not yet developed a nuclear bomb when it agreed end its program.
A lot of issues would have to be resolved before any decision is made about where to ship North Korea’s nuclear weapons, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan group in Washington that promotes public understanding of arms-control policies.
“One of the key issues that has to be sorted out between the United States and North Korea is what are the steps toward denuclearization North Korea will take and in exchange for what,” Kimball said. “So we are still quite a long way from talking about moving North Korean nuclear devices to any site for dismantlement.”
From a technical standpoint, denuclearization involves a range of steps.
“It requires a halt to the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons,” Kimball said. “It involves getting an accurate declaration from North Korea of their existing holdings and fissile material and of nuclear weapons. Then that declaration needs to be verified as being accurate.”
Then comes the question of what to do with the nuclear material that North Koreahas in its possession and might agree to give up.
Kimball said North Korea is probably not the best place to actually dismantle any such weapons.
“It would make sense to physically remove from North Korea dissembled devices and take them somewhere that has the technical capability to dissemble a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Oak Ridge has some capacity to do that because it’s relatively secure and already works on U.S. nuclear warhead life extension, Kimball said.
But Oak Ridge is better known for storage of uranium than warhead assembly and disassembly, so it’s a little surprising that one of the facilities there would be considered a storage area for nuclear warheads, Kimball said.
“If we’re talking about excess uranium, it makes more sense,” he said.
Reported by: Michael Collins/USA Today