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Redirecting North Korean Nuclear Scientists


The United States learned many lessons from its experiences with Scientist Redirection programs in the Former Soviet Union (FSU), Iraq and Libya. Based on those experiences, the National Academies, under the leadership of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) launched a project in November 2007, “Redirecting North Korean Nuclear Weapons Scientists.” The project drew on the regional expertise of Joel Wit, the project’s consultant, and the program experience of a variety of other experts, including Anne Harrington, CISAC’s director, who spent 15 years in the U.S. State Department leading similar efforts. Based on their input, and the lessons from previous scientist and technical worker redirection, a menu of options that could be applied to North Korea’s unique situation and circumstance were developed. An international working group of security experts, scientists and government officials from the Six Parties (minus the DPRK) and other nations added its perspective and input to the project.


The project leaders organized an international working group of security experts and scientists from the United States, China, South Korea, Japan, Russia and Europe in a comprehensive multifaceted data gathering and engagement strategy. Some members of the working group had direct contact with North Korean Foreign Ministry officials and nuclear scientists and were able to incorporate input from those conversations into the redirection strategy. The working group consulted government officials, think-tank experts, the scientific community and interested businesses in South Korea in order to build Seoul’s capacity to play an important role in a redirection program. Finally, the international working group of redirection experts provided the information they gathered and created to relevant government agencies and officials. Copies of the papers that were developed are included below along with summaries of a selection of the working group meetings.


Redirecting North Korean Nuclear Weapons Scientists: An Initial Program Model, Joel Wit and Anne Harrington

Organization Options for Redirecting DPRK Nuclear Experts, Anne Harrington and Amb. Joseph DeThomas

Possible Cooperative Projects for Utilization of the IRT-2000 Reactor, Ira N. Goldman, Pablo Adelfang, and Sean O’Kelly

Site Characterization and Foundation for the Dismantlement of the Yongbyon Nuclear Facility in the DPRK, Ronald K. Chesser and Carleton J. Phillips

Redirection of DPRK Nuclear Talent to the LWR Project, John B. Mulligan and HanKwon Choi

Non-nuclear Options for Engagement of Personnel Associated with the DPRK Nuclear Program, Andrew Hood and Anne Harrington

Redirecting North Korea’s Nuclear Workers, Jungmin Kang

Project Meetings and Consultations

March 2008: Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

October 2008: Seoul, South Korea

April 2009: IAPCM, Beijing, China

April 2009: Tokyo, Japan

October 2009: Seoul South Korea

April 2010: Washington, United States


The project participants concluded that redirection of elite North Korean nuclear experts could be a top priority if the North Korean government agrees to denuclearization. For the other countries in the Six Party talks (South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the United States), scientist and technician redirection would provide greater transparency, added assurance that denuclearization is permanent, and insurance against North Korean nuclear experts selling their skills abroad. For the DPRK, a redirection effort could ensure that the scientific and technical expertise in which the country invested for nuclear weapons, will continue to serve the country, but in non-military capacities.

The project assumed from the beginning that a scientist redirection framework broadly defined could only be applied to North Korea as part of a future package to reestablish ties and bring North Korea back into the international community and would be contingent on the cooperation of North Korea and the other parties. It is our hope that the redirection menu exists as a tool to implement in pieces or in total by the appropriate governments when the time is right.

Work under the project was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Korea Foundation, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation and The Ploughshares Fund

Disclaimer: This website contains unedited verbatim papers and presentations made by workshop participants and is not an official report of the National Academies. Opinions and statements included in this material are solely those of the individual authors. They have not been verified as accurate, nor do they necessarily represent the views of other workshop participants or the National Academies.