Trying to make a bomb out of drugs

The contraband was seized by the Russian security service along the short strip of land where Russia meets North Korea near Vladivostok. It weighed 8kg - two more than the sphere of plutonium-239 used by the United States to flatten Nagasaki in 1945. The consignment was, Tass news agency reported yesterday, of the highest quality and worth more than dollars 1m ( pounds 660,000). It was not plutonium, but a component Western intelligence agencies consider almost as important to Kim Il Sung's ambitions: heroin.

Drugs could well be the other side North Korea's baffling nuclear equation. They help provide the money needed to pay what, even for prosperous nations, are the crippling costs of developing atomic weapons.

It has long been feared that North Korea may buy Russia's atomic expertise. Only this week the counter-intelligence service announced in Moscow that five North Koreans had been deported several months earlier for 'showing too much interest in nuclear components'. Sergei Stepashin, the counter-intelligence chief, said yesterday during a visit to Vladivostok that North Korean special services had stepped up their activity in the Far East and were aiming to obtain secrets from Russia's Pacific Fleet.

With few sources of hard currency other than remittances from Koreans in Japan and the earnings of murky companies in Macau, Pyongyang is in desperate need of hard currency.

North Korean diplomats have long been accused in the West of exploiting diplomatic privilege to smuggle drugs to earn cash for their government. None of those involved in the case announced yesterday in Moscow appear to have had diplomatic status. But they almost certainly had close contacts with the government. Russian authorities say they arrested two North Korean nationals on 9 June in connection with the heroin. They were named by Tass as Kim In Chol and Choe Cheng Soo. Several Russian employees of a Russian-Korean joint venture called Monolit were also detained. All North Koreans sent to work in such ventures abroad are vetted for loyalty.

Russian scientists, who helped Pyongyang launch a small nuclear research programme, insist that Kim Il Sung has yet to make a bomb. Lev Ryabev, First Deputy Minister for nuclear engineering, believes there has been at worst 'insignificant research developments in this field'. But, he insists: 'North Korea does not have a nuclear bomb.' Even before Russia switched its attentions from Pyongyang to Seoul, Moscow tried to restrain North Korea's nuclear ambitions, demanding that it join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But if Pyongyang has failed to acquire a bomb with Russia's help, whether purloined or purchased, it is not for want of trying. In December 1992, some three dozen Russian weapons scientists were held as their plane was about to take off from Moscow for North Korea. They are said to have included researchers from Arzamas-16, the centre of Russia's own drive to build a nuclear bomb in the 1940s, and had been hired to work for hard currency.

Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
people
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PMLD Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: The Job; Experienced PMLD Teac...

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leeds: Randstad Education is the UK market lead...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £180 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: SEN Teacher requiredRandstad Ed...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Needs Teaching Assistant ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?