- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Underwater nukes

U.S. intelligence agencies are working to track down an alarming report from inside North Korea revealing that the communist regime is secretly developing underwater nuclear torpedoes and mines.

According to a newsletter run by dissident North Koreans, the report states that North Korea’s government has a special group of researchers at the National Defense Technology Institute that is “developing underwater weapons using nuclear warheads.” The report was published Dec. 3 by the Korean-language newsletter NK Chisigan Yondae, or NK Intellectual Solidarity.

The U.S. Navy once had nuclear torpedoes and mines, as did the Soviet navy, and China’s military also has discussed the use of nuclear torpedoes in its military writings as recently as 2006.

The nuclear torpedo and mine program aimed at compensating for Pyongyang’s high-technology gap with U.S. and South Korean firepower by using its nuclear arsenal, and North Korean sources told the newsletter that researchers in the country are concerned about the arms program.

The report quotes a government official in North Pyongan province, on the northeast border with China: “In March 2009, Institute 108 under Guidance Bureau 131 (General Bureau of Atomic Energy) launched a nuclear torpedo and mine research.”

The official noted that “nuclear mines are technologically at a stage of completion, and the plan [is] to finish [developing] nuclear torpedoes by 2012.”

The group running the nuclear mine program is called “Pongae,” or Lightning Group, and the torpedo-development unit is the “Uroe,” or Thunder Group.

The weapons research is being conducted by specialists from Institute 108, the facility involved in nuclear technology development. Others in the program belong to the Kusong Electronic Warfare Institute, along with other experts in torpedo and mine warfare.

The source was quoted as saying North Korea believes nuclear torpedos and mines will be capable of neutralizing South Korean and Japanese naval bases and U.S. aircraft carriers. The weapons also will provide a deterrent against U.S. military intervention in a second Korean conflict.

Asked about intelligence interest in reports of the underwater nuclear arms program, a U.S. intelligence official said: “Anything about possible North Korean technological developments is of interest to the intelligence community.”

Richard Fisher, a military-affairs specialist with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said, “It is a plausible development and the result of a 20-year, bipartisan unwillingness to defend ourselves from North Korea, Iran and their Chinese ally.”

China’s strategy is simply to have us negotiate with North Korea and Iran until its nuclear weapons start to kill us,” he told Inside the Ring. “If our leaders cannot now organize to end these threats and then deal with China, then we are condemned to an awful fate.”

Disclosure of the underwater nuclear program follows North Korea’s unveiling of a once-covert uranium-enrichment and centrifuge program last month.

It also comes amid new tensions in the region after North Korea’s sinking in March of a South Korean warship with a torpedo, killing 46 South Korean sailors, and the recent artillery shelling of a border island that killed two South Korean marines and two civilian construction workers.

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