The Next Nuclear Power? A U.S. delegation returns from North Korea, carrying a message from its leaders. The communist country says it has nuclear weapons and plans to build more. But officials doubt whether North Korea has the technology to back up those claims. One American scientist recounts his rare 1994 visit to the country's nuclear facilities, and the questions he was left with. NPR's David Kestenbaum reports.
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The Next Nuclear Power?

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The Next Nuclear Power?

The Next Nuclear Power?

Truth Hard to Find in North Korea's Weapons Claim

The Next Nuclear Power?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1284823/1284830" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Robert Alvarez stands with Dr. Li Sang Gun, head of one of North Korea's nuclear labs during his 1994 visit. Robert Alvarez hide caption

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Robert Alvarez

Alvarez says much of the technology he saw on his visit to North Korea struck him as primitive, including this 1960s helicopter that his team used for transport. Robert Alvarez hide caption

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Robert Alvarez

A six-member congressional team led by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) is flying home from a visit to North and South Korea. According to Weldon, North Korean leaders told the group that their country has nuclear weapons and plans to build more.

U.S. officials say they don't know whether to believe the claim. One reason is that few Americans have ever been allowed to visit the communist country's nuclear facilities. Robert Alvarez, in 1994, was part of the first U.S. delegation to visit the nuclear facility at Yongbyon. Alvarez, who worked at the Department of Energy, was the highest ranking official on the trip.

He says everything he encountered was old, primitive -- as if he'd stepped into a time machine. He recounts his visit -- and the questions it left him with -- to NPR's David Kestenbaum.