North Korea went on an atomic spending spree and expanded its nuclear arsenal while the United States was focused on reaching an agreement with Iran to dismantle its nuclear facilities.
In 2013, satellite images showed that North Korea already doubled the size of its main nuclear enrichment facility at Yongbyon. The United States learned about the situation, not until 2010. Some officials suspected that North Korea has another nuclear facility, according to report from the New York Times.
The report indicated that most likely, North Korea has a dozen nuclear weapons, and it could have as much as 20 nuclear bombs by the end of 2016 based on consensus estimates.
Siegfried S. Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a professor at Stanford, commented, “In my view, 20 is a hell of a lot of bombs.” Hecker was the first American to see North Korea’s nuclear enrichment plant and made estimated regarding its capabilities.
Hecker expressed doubt regarding the recent claims of U.S. military officials that North Korea was in the process of shrinking nuclear warheads to fit long-range missiles to reach the United States.
North Korea missiles could strike mainland United States
U.S. Admiral Bill Gortney, the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) previously stated that North Korea can miniaturize a nuclear warhead for its newly developed KN-O8 intercontinental ballistic missile. In theory, North Korea’s missile could reach the United States.
In a rare interview with CNN, Park Yong-Chol, deputy director of North Korea Institute of Research for National Reunification confirmed that his country has “nuclear arsenals” and warned that its long-range missiles could strike the mainland United States.
Park emphasized, “We are equipped with nuclear arsenals,” Park reiterated. “We may use them if we are forced by the U.S. to do so.”
“We invested a lot of money in our nuclear defense to counter the U.S. threat — huge sums that could have been spent in other sectors to improve our national economy. But this strategic decision was the right one,” he added.
Park also emphasized that North Korea is a “major power politically, ideologically, and militarily. According to him, the last remaining objective is to make the country as strong economic power.
North Korea is on the brink of a nuclear breakout
The latest report from US-Korea Institute at SAIS Johns Hopkins University by David Albright indicated that North Korea “goes to great lengths to hide its capabilities to produce nuclear explosive materials and nuclear weapons.”
Albright is a physicist, founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington DC. According to him, North Korea dramatically expanded its nuclear weapons capabilities over the past several years. Its main activities include the following:
• Separation of several kg of plutonium in 2009 after the collapse of the Six-Party Talk
• Conduct of underground nuclear tests in 2009 and 2013;
• Restart of the small 5 megawatt-electric (MWe) reactor at Yongbyon after a several-year halt;
• Construction of an experimental light water reactor (ELWR) at Yongbyon;
• Revelation of a centrifuge plant at Yongbyon and subsequent doubling of its size; and
• Modernization and construction of many buildings at Yongbyon, probably to enable future production of fuel for the 5 MWe reactor and the ELWR and to support the centrifuge plant.
Albright noted that these activities led to increased suspicions that North Korea is engaged in a significant covert nuclear activities, and it is operating a second centrifuge plant. He estimated that North Korea has 30 to 34 kg of separated plutonium by the end of 2014, and the country” worked on nuclear weaponization for more than 20 years.” He suggested it probably received nuclear weapons designs from the A.Q. Kahn network in the 1990s or earlier from China.
According to him, the North Korea’s recent developments support the reports that it “can build a miniaturize warhead for a Nodong and possibly other missiles.” He also estimated that the country built at least 10 or as much as 16 nuclear weapons based on two scenarios in 2014.
Albright said North Korea is expected to continue developing its nuclear weapons capabilities. He noted President Kim Jong-un’s previous statement that his government “should increase the production of precision and miniaturized nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery.” Kim Jong-un also emphasized his goal of non-stop development of nuclear weapons technology and active development of more powerful and advanced nuclear weapons.
North Korea is expected to have as much as 50 to 100 nuclear weapons by 2010 based on his medium and high-end threat analysis.
U.S. says North Korea’s nuclear arsenal in “rear-view mirror”
The nuclear arsenal of North Korea is “already in the rearview mirror” of the United States, according one of the top Asia aides of President Barack Obama. His administration started discussing “strategic patience,” which means imposing additional sanction until Pyongyang decided to negotiate.
The U.S. State Department’s coordinator for eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons, Sydney Seiler and his counterparts in China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea are preparing a package of proposals for Pyongyang to resume negotiations.
A senior official in South Korea told the New York Times, “Some in my government feel that we may now face the point of no return on the North’s nuclear technology and their missile capability.”