Looks like we are starting to get a sense of what “disablement” of the Yongbyon reactor might mean.
Chris Hill explains that a US team will visit Yongbyon to conduct a site survey, and hints at some of the disablement measures:
AMBASSADOR HILL: Well, I think this invitation grew out of the visit, the meeting, our bilateral meeting that took place in Geneva. And the concept was that if we’re going to get to full disablement, disabling nuclear facilities, and the declaration of nuclear — full declaration, we wanted to get going with some site surveys.
I don’t think it will be the only such trip, but there are many different ways you can disable a nuclear facility. You can drill a hole in the side of a reactor, you can fill it with cement, you can do various things. But it helps if you have a site survey and have a look at the reactor first. So that’s the concept here. I don’t think it’s the only visit that’s going to take place. But it’s certainly an effort to try to get really
— real nuclear experts to look at some of these facilities with their own eyes, to look at some of the ideas that we’ve had in the denuclearization working group that took place a few weeks ago in Shenyang and to see whether those ideas are really applicable to the actual equipment they will be looking at.
So they will be meeting with, of course, North Korean officials and, in fact, working with North Korean officials. Presumably, there will be a discussion about which facilities they’ll have a look at. But this is the first time we’ve had real nuclear experts together with Chinese and Russians, so the three nuclear states in the six-party talks to go and have a look.
(Chosun Ilbo has a nice profile
on the Korean-American leading the delegation.)
That comment, along with comments in a PBS interview
— Hill asked “what’s ‘disabling.’ Are you cutting certain drive chains? Are you drilling a hole in the side of the reactor?” — offer some sense of the measures on offer.
The only other official statement we have is the DOE document that I posted on-line — the official use only paper On the Issue of Initial Disablement Activities at a Reactor (March 2006) — which proposed cutting the drive chains as an interim measure, followed by “additional disablement functions” including disabling the cooling tower, the fuel rod handling machine and “after verification and nuclear forensics are complete” dismantling or permanently entombing the reactor pile.
I do not know the extent to which this paper was well or poorly received by the State Department. Certainly the idea of drilling a hole in the side of the reactor — which I presume would eliminate the gas coolant — came from someplace else.
Anyway, here is my list of possible measures that have been mentioned so far:
- Disable the control rods in the reactor pile
- Disable or destroy the secondary cooling discharge outlet (eg, the cooling tower nearby the reactor building),
- Disable/remove/destroy the fuel rod handling machine.
- Disable/destroy the gas cooling system
- Completely dismantle or permanently entomb the reactor pile.
The most important point from the DOE paper, which I have not seen mentioned in other briefings, is that “in the zeal to ‘permanently disable’ the plant, verification and forensics activities should be preserved wherever possible.”
Seriously, that is good advice.