Were you as surprised as I was to see the phrase “expert witnesses” in the same sentence as North, Korea? When I got back to the office this morning after a several days in New Orleans at the ABA GPSolo / GLSA Conference, I went through my emails, including my Google Alerts for “expert witness” and “expert witnesses.” One article, in particular, caught my attention. A post from ITV News titled, “North Korea ‘to close nuclear site’ in May in front of international expert witnesses,” got me thinking about what type of experts might be used in to verify the closure of a nuclear site. I understand that this probably means Kim Jong-Un will invite experts to witness the closure and is not likely referring to expert witnesses in the traditional-US-legal-system-sense.
Of course this article interested me because it brought together my employment and my undergraduate studies in Political Science / International Relations. In fact, the Dean of Political Science at my college specialized in the politics of the Korean Peninsula. I had taken several of his courses and respected him immensely, so this story really intrigued me.
Now, I do recall the verification processes that went along with the lead up to the war in Iraq. There were efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. It would not be a surprise to hear that the IAEA were involved in verifying the closure of a North Korean nuclear site. I do not want to get caught up on the particular agency taking part in this inspection. Rather, I am interested in the knowledge and specialization of the experts who may be asked to witness the closure.
According to the story from ITV News, “Kim Jong-un announced he would invite representatives from both South Korea and the US to witness the closure as the two Korean leaders met for a historic summit on Friday.” What type of experts will be brought to witness the closure? How will we know the nuclear site is closed? Who verifies that it has been closed? What type of expertise is needed to verify the closure? These, and other questions were posed to some of our Nuclear Energy expert witnesses.
Before getting into the nuclear energy experts, I should also say that the above article really has to do with nuclear weapons testing, rather than the production of nuclear material. Our experts are more likely familiar with the production of nuclear material and that is what I have focused on as that will likely be a future step in negotiations.
Input from a Nuclear / Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness:
I reached out to one of our members based in the UK to get some answers on this subject. Geoffrey Beresford Hartwell is a Chartered Engineer who specialized in aerospace and nuclear energy early in his career. You can learn more about his current practice by visiting his website: arbitrator-engineer-gbh.co.uk. For ease of reading, I have distinguished between the questions I asked and the answers provided by Mr. Hartwell.
Nick: What type of experts would be used to confirm the nuclear testing facility is shut down?
Mr. Hartwell: I would suggest nuclear engineers or health physicists equipped with Geiger Counters and supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They should be able to detect remaining radioactive traces by their emission of alpha particles, beta particles or gamma rays. They must test in apparently empty containers.
Nick: Would someone with your expertise be asked to participate?
Mr. Hartwell: I imagine so but my membership of the Institution of Nuclear Engineers lapsed after some health issues.
Nick: What is the process for closing a nuclear facility?
A) Remove all active material to long-term storage approved by IAEA. In contentious circumstances that should involve processing at a facility in Britain, USA or France. I do not know if a facility is Russia would be appropriate.
B) Clean to IAEA requirements. Dismantle plant and equipment.
C) After safety inspection (see Q.1) destroy nuclear specific buildings. Reactor buildings, if any, may need special attention – insertion of boron absorber; casing in concrete; fencing.
Nick: How long might it take to close a nuclear facility?
Mr. Hartwell: Weeks, possibly months, perhaps many months.
Nick: Can a nuclear facility be reopened with relative ease?
Mr. Hartwell: Yes, if nuclear-specific buildings are left intact.
Nick: To prevent future activity at a nuclear facility, wouldn’t there have to be some action to dismantle a facility?
Mr. Hartwell: Yes.
Nick: What would it take to make sure that a nuclear facility is shut down and remains inactive in the future?
Mr. Hartwell: Demolish Nuclear-specific equipment and buildings – under IAEA supervision.
Nick: What items does the public need to know about closing a nuclear site?
Mr. Hartwell: Report of IAEA; open visits to site.
Nick: Any other comments you’d like to add. Important items that I have not covered in the above questions…
Mr. Hartwell: Disposal of materials is difficult; some remains radioactive for centuries. Removing some materials – such as, from some reactors, hot liquid sodium which cannot be in contact with moisture – can be dangerous.
Well there you have it. Geopolitical affairs are taking place all around us. We get to wait and see what will happen with not only the nuclear testing site, but other nuclear production sites in North Korea. If another story presents itself in a way that I can write about it, I will.
I’d like to say I’m waiting for comment from Kim Jong-Un for this article, but his people are not returning my phone calls. I think they blocked my number.