Abstract: In 1992, North Korea offered to dismantle its plutonium-production reactors in exchange for more “proliferation-resistant” light water reactors (LWRs) from the West, and this offer culminated in the 1994 Agreed Framework with the United States. After the Agreed Framework collapsed in 2002, North Korean negotiators continued to insist that LWRs were a prerequisite for relinquishing its nuclear weapons capabilities. Why has the regime placed such importance on this particular form of energy generation? I examine the history of North Korea’s pursuit of LWR technology, and the shifting role that pursuit played in its diplomacy. A technically informed look at the LWR fuel cycle reveals a network of technical dependence that can draw nations into enduring modes of collective action. At times, and with varying degrees of awareness, actors on all sides of the North Korean nuclear crisis sought to leverage these unique aspects of LWR technology, hoping to lay a path for North Korea to vacate its isolation. This overlooked history offers important lessons for nonproliferation thought and policy.
About the Speaker: Chris Lawrence is a Research Fellow with the Program on Science, Technology and Society in Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He is trained in nuclear physics and engineering, and is generally interested in the role of knowledge in arms control and disarmament. He was previously Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.