North Korea's Other Nuclear Threat

Why We Have More to Fear Than Just Bombs

The Kori No. 1 and No. 2 reactor of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp in Ulsan, about 255 miles southeast of Seoul, September 3, 2013. Lee Jae-Won / Reuters

As the world grapples with the nuclear threat emanating from North Korea, it is not only bombs that should concern us. It is also the dozens of nuclear power plants in Japan and South Korea that are vulnerable to attack should war break out in the region. Commercial nuclear reactors were never designed to survive volleys of missiles that could breach reactor containment buildings, sever coolant lines, destroy the reactor core and spent fuel pools—all of which could cause a nuclear meltdown. Moreover, many of the reactors in Japan and South Korea were built in clusters, which means their destruction could lead to levels of contamination greater than in Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Historically, nations at war have tended to attack nonoperational reactors rather than live ones because of radiation concerns. When Israel bombed Iraq’s Osirak and Syria’s Al Kibar plants in 1981 and 2007, respectively, it was before the

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