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IAEA Media Advisory 2002/52

Fact Sheet on DPRK Nuclear Safeguards

2002 | For full coverage, see the pages on IAEA: DPRK.

1980s: Origins of Nuclear Safeguards. On 12 December 1985 the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) became a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). On 10 April 1992 the NPT Safeguards Agreement entered into force (INFCIRC/403). Before that, in 1977, the country had concluded an INFCIRC/66 type Safeguards Agreement (INFCIRC/252) for two nuclear research facilities (the IRT research reactor and a critical assembly).

  • Two-Phased Programme. Two phases are to be distinguished in the DPRK's nuclear programme. The first started at the end of the fifties and was set up with Soviet assistance. In that period a nuclear complex was constructed at Nyongbyong, where in the 1960s a number of facilities were built. The second - indigenous - phase started in 1979 with the construction of a 5 MW(e) natural uranium, graphite moderated reactor in Nyongbyong. In the same period an ore processing plant and a fuel rod fabrication plant were built. By the time the 5 MW(e) reactor became operational in 1986, construction of the first of two larger gas-graphite reactors began and around 1987, also in Nyongbyong, the construction of a Radiochemical Laboratory with a sizeable reprocessing capacity started.

1990s: IAEA Inspections Start. After the DPRK had submitted its initial report to the IAEA under its Safeguards Agreement in May 1992, inspections began. Shortly thereafter inconsistencies emerged between the DPRK's initial declaration and the Agency's findings, centring on a mismatch between declared plutonium product and nuclear waste solutions and the results of the Agency's analysis. The latter suggested that there existed in the DPRK undeclared plutonium. In order to find answers to the inconsistencies detected and to determine the completeness and correctness of the initial declaration provided, the IAEA requested access to additional information and to two sites which seemed to be related to the storage of nuclear waste. The DPRK, however, refused access to the sites.

  • Special Inspection. Thereupon, the Director General invoked in February 1993 the special inspection procedure provided for in the Safeguards Agreement. The request for a special inspection was refused by the DPRK and the Board of Governors on 1 April 1993 concluded that the DPRK was in non-compliance with its Safeguards Agreement and, in line with Article XII.C of the IAEA Statute, referred this non-compliance to the UN Security Council. On 11 May 1993, the Council called upon the DPRK to comply with the Agreement. In parallel with these developments, on 12 March 1993, the DPRK announced its decision to withdraw from the NPT, but in June 1993 "suspended the effectuation" of that withdrawal.


  • Prelude to Security Council Action. During 1993 and 1994 the IAEA was permitted by the DPRK to conduct safeguards activities with a limited scope only (containment, surveillance and maintenance) with the sole purpose of ensuring, as the DPRK phrased it, the "continuity of safeguards" versus "full implementation" demanded by the Agency. The Director General reported as early as December 1993 to the Board that the kind of limited safeguards permitted by the DPRK could no longer be said to provide any meaningful assurance of the peaceful use of the DPRK's declared nuclear installations. Based on the Director General's report, the UN Security Council, on 31 March 1994, again called upon the DPRK to enable the inspectors to complete their required activities.


  • June 1994 IAEA Board Resolution. In the context of the special inspection request it was vital for the Agency to ascertain whether the core of the DPRK's 5 MW(e) Experimental Nuclear Power reactor was the first core as claimed by the DPRK. However, in May 1994, the DPRK hastily discharged the fuel from the 5 MW(e) reactor in such a way that the IAEA was not able to conduct the verification activities that could have clarified the history of the core. On 30 May 1994, in his statement, the President of the Security Council called for immediate consultations between the DPRK and the Agency in connection with the further discharge of the core, and, on 10 June 1994, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution which concluded that "the DPRK is continuing to widen its non-compliance with its safeguards agreement by taking actions which prevent the Agency from verifying the history of the reactor core and from ascertaining whether nuclear material from the reactor had been diverted in past years". The Board also decided to suspend all non-medical technical assistance to the DPRK.


  • DPRK Withdraws IAEA Membership. On 13 June 1994, the DPRK, which had been an IAEA Member State since 1974, withdrew from its membership in the Agency. Although the withdrawal did not affect the DPRK obligations under its Safeguards Agreement, which in the Agency's view remains binding and in force, the DPRK took the position that it was in a special position with regard to the Safeguards Agreement and that it was no longer obliged to allow the inspectors to carry out their work under the Safeguards Agreement.

US-DPRK Agreed Framework. The mid-1994 crisis was defused by the visit of former President Carter in June 1994 and in the subsequent negotiations that led to the Agreed Framework between the US and the DPRK on 21 October 1994. Under the Agreed Framework the US commits itself to make arrangements for the provision of a LWR generating capacity of approximately 2000 MW(e) in exchange for a DPRK "freeze" and ultimately the dismantlement of its graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities. The arrangements for the LWR project led to the creation, in 1995, of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO).

  • IAEA Monitoring of the Freeze. The Agreed Framework stipulates that the IAEA will be allowed to monitor the freeze. At the request of the Security Council (in a statement by the President of the Council of 4 November 1994), and as authorized by the Board of Governors on 11 November 1994, the IAEA has maintained a continuous presence in Nyongbyong to verify the freeze. In the Agency's view, the activities under the Agreed Framework are a subset of activities to be performed under the Safeguards Agreement. The facilities subject to the freeze are the 5MW(e) reactor, the Radiochemical Laboratory (reprocessing), the fuel fabrication plant and the partially built 50 and 200MW(e) nuclear power plants.

IAEA-DPRK Technical Talks. Notwithstanding the continuing difference between the Agency and the DPRK as to the status of the Safeguards Agreement, regular technical meetings, about twice a year, have taken place since 1994 in Vienna and the DPRK to resolve outstanding issues. Initially the discussions focussed on preserving the relevant information. However, despite 17 rounds of technical consultations, no progress has been achieved on key issues. After the Secretariat had determined, in September 2000, that it would need 3 to 4 years to carry out all the activities required to verify the correctness and completeness of the initial report, the focus has shifted to obtaining full DPRK cooperation to carry out these activities. So far the DPRK has not agreed to even discuss such a programme of work. The last technical meeting was held in November 2001. Repeated efforts in the course of 2002 to convene a technical meeting with "verification of the correctness and completeness of the initial report" on the agenda have not yet been successful.

KEDO Nuclear Plant Project. Factors relevant to the DPRK position are its relations with the US and the progress in the KEDO Project. The conclusion of an internal US review in June 2001 was that improved implementation of the Agreed Framework should be sought. The Agreed Framework aimed at the completion of the first reactor in 2003, but the project has suffered delays for a number of reasons. However, since the start of the construction phase in February 2000, the project has been on schedule. The concrete for the first reactor was poured on 7 August 2002. According to the Delivery Protocol to the 1995 KEDO-DPRK Supply Agreement, which was handed over to the DPRK (and brought to the attention of the Agency) at the end of April 2002, the first key nuclear components will be delivered in mid-2005. This is relevant to the Agency because the Agreed Framework specifies that the DPRK has to come into full compliance with its safeguards agreement before key nuclear components can be delivered.

October 2002 Disclosures. A new phase started on 16 October 2002 with the announcement by the US that the DPRK side had acknowledged, in talks with Assistant Secretary Kelly in early October that it had a "programme to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons". Subsequently in a number of statements, by the US, by the US together with Japan and the Republic of Korea (28 October 2002), and by KEDO (14 November 2002), the conclusion was drawn that the DPRK's programme was a violation of the Agreed Framework, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the DPRK-IAEA Safeguards Agreement and the North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In light of those violations the KEDO Board decided to suspend heavy oil deliveries as of the December shipment.

November 2002: IAEA Seeks Clarification, Talks. The IAEA, in faxes of 17 and 18 November, requested information about the alleged programme and offered "to dispatch a senior team to the DPRK or to receive a DPRK team in Vienna, to discuss recent information and the general question of the implementation of IAEA safeguards in the DPRK". No reply to these faxes was received. On 29 November the Board of Governors adopted a resolution without a vote in which the Board insisted that the DPRK should reply and cooperate with the Agency. The Board recognized that the programme to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons "or any other covert nuclear activities, would constitute a violation of the DPRK's international commitments, including the DPRK's safeguards agreement with the Agency pursuant to the NPT".

December 2002: Exchanges of Letters. In his reply to the IAEA Director General (dated 2 December, received 4 December) the DPRK Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun expressed his disappointment about the Agency's unilateral and unfair approach. The DPRK Government could not accept the resolution, he said. On 12 December the Director General received a further letter, from Mr. Ri Je Son, Director General of the General Department of Atomic Energy in the DPRK, conveying the DPRK decision on that day to lift the freeze on its nuclear facilities as of 13 December in light of the US suspension of the heavy fuel oil supply pursuant to the Agreed Framework. The Director General replied the same day urging the DPRK not to take unilateral steps related to seals or cameras and to agree to an urgent meeting of technical experts to discuss practical arrangements involved in moving from the freeze to normal safeguards operations. However, on 22 December the DPRK started to cut seals and disable surveillance cameras. On 27 December it ordered the IAEA inspectors to leave the country.

January 2003: New Resolution. In light of these developments the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a new resolution 6 January 2003 in which the DPRK was called upon to cooperate urgently with the Agency. The Board affirmed that unless the DPRK would take all required safeguards measures, it would be in further non-compliance with its safeguards agreement.

No Complete Picture. In conclusion, the Agency has never been able to verify the completeness and correctness of the initial report of the DPRK under the NPT Safeguards Agreement. Since 1993 it has drawn the conclusion that the DPRK is in non-compliance with its obligations under the Agreement. In other words, the Agency has never had the complete picture regarding DPRK nuclear activities and has never been able to provide assurances regarding the peaceful character of the DPRK nuclear programme. Between 1994 and 2002 the Agreed Framework has been a tool that was aimed at bringing the DPRK into compliance with its safeguards obligations. However, the reports about a clandestine uranium enrichment programme, the end of the “freeze” pursuant to the Agreed Framework, and the expulsion of the IAEA inspectors, have brought this phase to an end.