North Korea, with the help of Pakistan, may have opened an alternative way to clandestinely build nuclear weapons as early as 1990s by constructing a plant to manufacture a gas needed for uranium enrichment. Pyongyang may have been enriching uranium on a small scale by 2002, with maybe 3,000 or even more centrifuges and Pakistani supplied vital machinery, drawings and technical advice, The Washington Post has reported citing an account by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb programme.
The Post quoting a US intelligence official said Khan's information adds to their suspicions that North Korea has long pursued the enrichment of uranium in addition to making plutonium for bombs. The paper quoted the Pakistani scientist as saying that there was tacit agreement between the two governments that his labratory "would advice and guide them with a centrifuge programme and that the North Koreans would help Pakistan in fitting the nuclear warhead into the Ghauri missile".
The paper quoted Khan as saying that during his visit to North Korea in 1999, he was taken to a mountain tunnel, where his source had showed him components of three finished nuclear warheads. "While they explained the construction (design of the bombs), they quietly showed me the six boxes containing split cores for the warheads," Khan said.
The paper said that the disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist visit occurred seven years ago and if correct, suggests that North Korea's nuclear programme is more advanced than previously known and the country may have more sophisticated weapons. The paper said the Ghauri missile was Pakistan's version of the Nodong missile that Islamabad brought from Pyongyong.
The post also said that North Korea in turn taught Pakistan how to make Krytrons - extremely fast electric switches that are used in nuclear detonations. Contradicting official Pakistani statements that the government had no involvement in such sensitive transfers, Khan was quoted by a paper as saying that his assistance was approved by top political and army officials including then Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai, who currently oversees Pakistan's atomic arsenal.