Monday, April 28, 2014

Taiwan's past with nuclear weapons research

While a number of protests and high-profile hunger strikes are currently gripping Taiwan over the objections of completing the island's 4th nuclear power plant, there was a time in the not so distant past where the country's leadership was secretly looking to use nuclear technology for a darker purpose---nuclear weapons.  For a fascinating  look into this program, one should look no further than The National Security Archives to read "New Archival Evidence on Taiwanese "Nuclear Intentions", 1966-1976."  While a great deal of Taiwan's nuclear weapons program is still classified by both the American and Taiwanese governments, this 1999 publishing has a great deal of information. Some of the more interesting aspects include:

  • A highly sophisticated game of cat-and-mouse between two allies, with the government of Chiang Kai-shek seeking to develop nuclear capabilities; and looking outward to Israel, Canada, and West Germany for assistance, while trying to convince the United States and the IAEA that it was not seeking nuclear weapon capabilities. 
  • Further information on the death of IAEA inspector Pierre Noir, who died in 1978 while inspecting Taiwan's nuclear program.  Conspiracy theorists have even stated that his death was not accidental (although declassified documents over the past decade seem to have put this idea to rest). For more on the circumstances behind Noir's death, this link will be of interest.  
  • A deeper look into why the United States government was petrified of Taiwan's program (it was not a coincidence that the US took a more aggressive posture towards the program during the Nixon and Ford administrations as both were seeking a closer relationship with the PRC)

The documents, however,  still fail to answer some major questions about Taiwan's program.  For example, there has yet to be a definitive answer as to who exactly in Taiwan's leadership was the driving force behind the program.  Although CKS was believed to be the original driving force of attempting to develop a program, he would have needed additional support for such an endeavor (Chiang's son and eventual successor,  Premier Chiang Ching-kuo is widely believed to have also played a major role).  Additionally, it is not known what type of sticks the United States threatened Taiwan with in order to have the program stopped.  While the report does not fully lift the veil of secrecy from the program, it does make for a fascinating read. 

For a related story: Jeffrey Lewis of "Arms Control Wonk"  recently published some satellite pictures  of  Taiwan's decommissioned research reactor that was used for weapons research, which was complete with an unsafeguarded exit port in the reactor's fuel pond---which means that it was highly likely fuel was being diverted for a nuclear weapon. 

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