NORTH KOREA: Threat no one’s talking about
SECRECY surrounding its weapons programs and a lack of transparency will hamper North Korea's ability to deal with a nuclear disaster, it has been warned.
The secretive regime sparked global alarm this year with a series of ballistic and missile tests, which have also drawn the ire of the United States. It has also alarmed several experts and weapons analysts.
Writing in a piece for respected North Korea analysis site 38 North, Matt Korda, a researcher in the Department of War Studies at King's College London, reveals how a nuclear accident in the country remains a real possibility.
Footage of North Korea leader Kim Jong-un smoking while a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile is erected on the launch pad is just one example of questionable safety standards in the country's program.
"Kim's recklessness is certainly notable, and it hints at an underemphasised and potentially devastating possibility: the threat of a nuclear accident in North Korea," Korda writes.
More importantly if a disaster did occur, North Korea's lack of transparency would cause "political panic in the region in excess of the actual radiological exposure and environmental impact."
In 2014, South Korean President Park Geun-hye claimed Yongbyon "is home to such a dense concentration of nuclear facilities that a fire in a single building could lead to a disaster potentially worse than Chernobyl".
Korda argues while this is an exaggeration, Ms Park's fears are not completely unfounded.
Other experts noted a failure in North Korea's power grid could prevent its reactors from cooling down completely, triggering a potential meltdown.
Korda argues it's fortunate and surprising an incident hasn't occurred yet and writes it can be avoided but "nuclear safety talks with the North to help prevent such an accident from occurring" is the only way to avoid it.
Yongbyon is North Korea's primary nuclear research centre.
An earlier 38 North piece this year acknowledged it remained unclear exactly what activity took place here but concluded it remains "the centre of North Korea's nuclear program."
North Korea last month tested its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, which it claimed had a range of 13,000km and was capable of reaching the mainland US.
However some experts have questioned whether the North mastered the nuclear warhead technology.
North Korea's nuclear safety standards came under the global spotlight last month when reports emerged that 200 workers had been killed in tunnels beneath a nuclear test site.
Japanese broadcaster Asahi TV reported hundreds of workers were feared dead after an underground tunnel collapsed at the Punggye-ri test site on October 10.
The Japanese report was not verified and some experts, including leading North Korean analyst and global security expert Ankit Panda, expressed doubts over the report.
In a tweet last month, Mr Panda said the Asahi TV report hasn't been corroborated.
In a statement issued just days later, North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency said the report was "false" and merely "misinformation," Reuters reported.
It also accused the Japanese station of trying to "slander" the rogue regime's nuclear weapons program.
Experts had expressed fears the test site could be on the verge of collapse after North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test on September 3.
Frank V Pabian, from 38 North tweeted at the time it was possible North Korea's sixth nuclear test could have caused tunnels to collapse.
If the international community has any concerns about North Korea's nuclear ambitions, the secretive country itself does not.
Kim this week vowed to develop more nuclear weapons, while he decorated scientists and officials who contributed to the development of Pyongyang's most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-15.
Speaking at the close of the 8th Conference of Munitions Industry, which celebrated the country's most successful missile test, Kim vowed his country will develop and manufacture more diverse weapons.
Kim said scientists and workers would continue manufacturing "more weapons and equipment" to "bolster up the nuclear force in quality and quantity", according to KCNA.