Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Report Reveals Harsh Realities for North Korean Nuclear Scientists

Sun 12 May 2024 | 01:42 PM
By Ahmad El-Assasy

North Korean nuclear scientists live constrained lives, without control over most aspects of their existence, from education and profession to housing and marital choices, starting from elementary school. 

In a nation where failing is equated with disloyalty, these scientists work under inhumane conditions, dedicated indefinitely to what is termed the "task of the fatherland."

Contrary to common assumptions that North Korea's 10,000 nuclear scientists are privileged due to the significance of nuclear capabilities for the country’s regime, a new report presents a starkly different reality.

 Authored by Robert Collins, a former chief strategist for the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, and titled "Slave to the Bomb," the analysis reveals the oppressive lives of these scientists, based on interviews with North Korean defectors and classified documents.

Collins points out that the importance of nuclear technology to Kim Jong Un and the nation’s survival does not translate into better treatment for the scientists. Instead, they face immense pressure to develop advanced weaponry as a means of national defense and survival, with failure not being an option.

From an early age, North Korean children showing aptitude in math and science are funneled into a rigorous training system. The most talented among them are sent to top schools in Pyongyang, such as the elite Middle School in Shinwon-dong, and later to one of five designated universities. 

Their professional paths are predetermined; once they achieve in their fields, they are locked into a lifetime of service at one of the country’s numerous nuclear facilities, their roles and living conditions dictated by their assignments.

Marriages are arranged, personal freedom is restricted, and dissent is harshly penalized. Despite international sanctions, some scientists still manage to study abroad. 

The quality of life for these scientists varies significantly depending on their workplace assignment, with some facilities, like the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, being notably less desirable due to harsh conditions and high risks.