Washington Babylon — July 17, 2007, 1:26 pm

As North Korea Gives Up Reactor, Kazakhstan Seeks a Nuclear Edge

kazakhbomb

North Korea may have just shut down its reactor, but here’s something new to worry about: Kazakhstan, the Caspian country ruled by a man who has just effectively declared himself President-for-Life, may be on the verge of acquiring nuclear fuel processing technology. The only thing standing in the way would be a veto by the Bush administration, and given its close relationship with President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s energy-rich regime that doesn’t seem likely.

The scenario is as follows: Toshiba now owns 77 percent of Westinghouse, the U.S.-based nuclear power plant builder and operator. It wants to sell 10 percent of its stake to Kazatomprom (KAP), Kazakhstan’s state-run nuclear agency. According to accounts in the Japanese press and international news agencies, the transaction will require Toshiba and Westinghouse to transfer uranium-processing technology to KAP.

If the deal goes through, KAP would not operate a nuclear fuel-enrichment plant but it would produce uranium hexafluoride, or “hex,” which is “used in the uranium enrichment process that produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons.” Obtaining hex would certainly be of keen interest to any country seeking to develop nuclear weapons as it could be used as feed for its enrichment plants. (Added July 18 at 12:00PM–Furthermore, Kazakhstan has expressed an interest in getting centrifuges and enriching fuel according to Nucleonics Week, an industry publication.)

Nucleonics Week also says the deal would begin transforming KAP “from a uranium producer into a diversified player on the global nuclear market.” The article said that the “KAP buy-in to Westinghouse would be the first instance in which a part of the former Soviet civilian-military nuclear complex became a shareholder in a Western nuclear supplier company.”

Kazakhstan was praised for having voluntarily given up its nuclear weapons arsenal in 1992 after gaining independence from the former Soviet Union. But Nazarbayev’s government is considered to be widely corrupt and “there are reports that nuclear facilities and material are not secure, and there is evidence that people in Kazakhstan have ties to nuclear black-market activities,” according to James Love, head of the Washington-based group Knowledge Ecology International.

The sale of a stake in Westinghouse to a company in a third country requires the approval of the U.S. government. Today, Love’s group and three others, Greenpeace, Essential Action, and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, wrote to the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to oppose the sale on the grounds that it would “undermine efforts to limit nuclear proliferation, and . . . give sensitive nuclear technology to a brutal, repressive and undemocratic regime.”

I ran the potential deal past Henry Sokolski, Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, and he also expressed opposition. “It would essentially be encouraging a government to get into the nuclear fuel-making business,” he said. “That is always going to be a problem, especially in the case of a government like Kazakhstan’s.”

The fact that Kazakhstan has previously given up its nuclear arsenal does not eliminate concerns. “Whatever the economic arguments might be, there always ought to be an overriding security imperative to keep nuclear-fuel making plants out of countries that don’t currently have nuclear weapons,” he said. “If you have a fuel-making plant in the wrong place it doesn’t matter if there are international safeguards. You won’t be able to reliably know where all the nuclear material is and you don’t know where the expertise involved in running the plant may end up.”

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2015

Loitering With Intent

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Polite Coup

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Findings

What Went Wrong

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Shooting Down Man the Hunter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
What Went Wrong·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In the seventh year of his presidency, Barack Obama was presenting himself as a politician who followed the path of least resistance. This is a disturbing confession.”
Photograph by Pete Souza
Article
Surviving a Failed Pregnancy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If this woman — who spent her days studying gray screens for early signs of gestation — could not see my pregnancy, what were the chances that anyone else would?”
Illustration by Leigh Wells
Article
Interesting Facts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My husband is forty-six. I am forty-five. He does not think that, in my forties, after cancer, chemotherapy, and chemically induced menopause, I can get pregnant again, but sisters, I know my womb. It’s proven.”
Photograph by McNair Evans
Post
Kid Chocolate’s Place·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Cuban eyes often look close to tears.”
Illustration by the author
Article
Thirty Million Gallons Under the Sea·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If you short-circuit the bottom, you threaten the entire cycle,” Joye told me. “Without a healthy ocean, we’ll all be dead.”
Illustration by John Ritter

Length in days of the sentence Russian blogger Alexei Navalny served for leading an opposition rally last year:

15

Israeli researchers developed software that evaluates the depression of bloggers.

A teenager in Singapore was convicted of obscenity for posts critical of Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s founding father, that included an image of Lee having sex with Margaret Thatcher.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today