Nuclear power and nuclear weapons have a common
technological foundation. In pursuit of a civilian fuel cycle-making fuel,
building reactors to burn the fuel, and dealing with nuclear waste, which might
include extracting some valuable by-products of spent reactor fuel-a nation can
develop the capability of producing the material necessary for a bomb, either
highly enriched uranium or plutonium. Under civilian cover, North Korea
developed a fuel cycle ideally suited to harboring a latent capability for weapons
production. In fact, although the country now has the bomb, it does not have
much of a nuclear arsenal or any nuclear-generated electricity.
In the 1970s, South Korea was also interested in the bomb,
but it gave up those aspirations and, with international assistance, turned its
nuclear focus to civilian energy. Today the South Korean nuclear power industry
provides nearly 40 percent of the country's electricity, and South Korea is in
a position to become a major international exporter of nuclear power plants.
The factors that led North Korea to build the bomb and those that led South
Korea to forsake it can be instructive for the United States in formulating a
policy to restrain Iran's nuclear weapon ambitions, although the political
situation there is dramatically different.