Regards the discussion article by Rick Gladstone “If U.S. Attacks North Korea First, Is That Self-Defense?"( New York Times, August 10; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/10/world/asia/us-north-korea-preemptive-attack-questions-answers.html) on the legality or otherwise of a U.S. first strike on North Korea, it overlooks the consequences of President Kim retaliating with conventional munitions on South Korea.
For, as Bennett Ramberg, now a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.) - and formerly a senior official at the State Department’s Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs under the first Bush administration - has written extensively, even if the U.S. were to destroy North Korea’s military nuclear infrastructure, Kim Jong-un has thousands of conventional missiles, many aimed at South Korea’s national infrastructure, including its 23 nuclear reactors at four sites ( with another under construction at Yeongdeok.) (“Responding to North Korea,” http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2013/02/15/responding-to-north-korea/)
Any such attack would inevitably destroy the containment for the irradiated (spent) nuclear fuel storage ponds adjoining each reactor complex, distributing uncontrolled radiation across the densely populated peninsula, and, almost certainly near –neighbor Japan too.
South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in has recognised the risk of his nation having nuclear power plants and has pledged to pull out of the nuclear business, asserting in a speech in June “We will abolish our nuclear-centred energy policy and move towards a nuclear-free era.” (Japan Times, June 19 http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/06/19/asia-pacific/moon-says-south-korea-will-stop-building-new-nuclear-power-plants/)
Your several news reports and powerful first leader (High Noon, The Times, August 10; https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/high-noon-xvpg7pz9q) explore many aspects of the escalating nuclear threat from North Korea.
But you overlook how British nuclear designs have been purloined by the North Koreans to build production plants for their nuclear explosives.
There is significant evidence that the British Magnox nuclear plant design – which was primarily built as a military plutonium production factory – provided the blueprint for the North Korean military plutonium programme based in Yongbyon. Here is what Douglas (now Lord) Hogg, then a Conservative minister, admitted in a written parliamentary reply in 1994:
“We do not know whether North Korea has drawn on plans of British reactors in the production of its own reactors. North Korea possesses a graphite moderated reactor which, while much smaller, has generic similarities to the reactors operated by British Nuclear Fuels plc. However, design information of these British reactors is not classified and has appeared in technical journals.”
(Douglas Hogg, written parliamentary reply to Labour MP Llew Smith, Hansard 25 May 1994; http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/written_answers/1994/may/25/korea#column_186w)
Three North Korean plutonium production reactors, all based on the open access blueprints of the Calder Hall Magnox reactors at Sellafield, include a small 5 MWe experimental reactor at Yongbyon, operated from 1986 to 1994, and restarted in 2003; a 50 MWe reactor, also at Yongbyon, whose construction commenced in 1985 but was never finished; and a 200 MWe reactor at Taechon, construction of which also halted in 1994.
The uranium enrichment programmes of both North Korea and Iran also have a UK connection. The blueprints of this type of plant were stolen by Pakistani scientist, A Q Khan, from the URENCO enrichment plant in The Netherlands in the early 1970s.
(see David Albright, Peddling Peril,2010 pp 15-28,Free Press, New York)
This plant was - and remains - one-third owned by the UK government. The Pakistan government subsequently sold the technology to Iran, who later exchanged it for North Korean Nodong missiles.
A technical delegation from the A Q Khan Research Labs visited North Korea in the summer of 1996. The secret enrichment plant was said to be based in caves near Kumch’ang-ni, 100 miles north of the capital, Pyonyang, where US satellite photos showed tunnel entrances being built.
Hwang Jang-yop, a former aid to President Kim Il-sung (the grandfather of the current North Korean President) who defected in 1997, revealed details to Western intelligence investigators, according to a detailed investigation by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark in Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Global Weapons Conspiracy, 2007,( p.281, Atlantic Books).
This demonstrates the proliferation risk of nuclear technologies.