The growing hostility between North Korea and the U.S. has just been cranked up another notch. The director of North Korea’s Atomic Energy Institute said they are “fully prepared to respond with nuclear weapons at any time,” reports the state-run Korean Central News Agency, according to CNN.
North Korea threatens nuclear attack
The Korean news agency also reports that North Korean officials said they will respond with a nuclear attack if the U.S. and “other hostile forces” continue their “reckless hostile policy.” Further, they said Pyongyang has been building up its arsenal of nuclear weapons “in quality and quantity.”
The extent of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities isn’t clear right now, as officials claim they made a small enough device to put a nuclear warhead on a missile. However, officials in the U.S. don’t believe this claim.
Pyongyang’s saber rattling
North Korea is known for issuing headline-grabbing statements and has repeatedly made threats to use its nuclear weapons on the U.S. previously. However, experts debate about whether Pyongyang will be bold enough to attack the mainland of the U.S.
North Korea said on Monday that it plans to launch more satellites in October, which is seen as a way to test ballistic missiles. The U.N. Security Council prohibits these types of launches. Pyongyang also said again today that its nuclear weapons are self-defense measures because of the “hostile policy” of the U.S. and its allies.
Protecting against North Korea
Mark Lippert, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said the U.S. has been working with North Korea’s neighbors, like South Korea and its other allies in the region, to ensure that they and the mainland of the U.S. are protected from potential nuclear aggression by North Korea. Lippert said they’ve moved a lot of missile defense systems to Asia, making his comments before North Korea issued its latest saber rattling statement.
According to Lippert, the U.S. has deployed ground-based interceptors to Alaska, an additional radar system in Japan, a THAAD battery to Guam, and surface defense systems to the Western Pacific region. THAAD is short for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and is essentially a defense system with ballistic missiles.
North Korea ramps up nuclear capabilities
Pyongyang also said today that it has brought its nuclear complex in Yongbyon online as it builds up its nuclear capabilities. North Korea started planning to reopen the site more than two years ago. It had been closed in 2007, according to the BBC. The site is key to the country’s nuclear weapons program because the reactor has provided the plutonium for the program.
U.S. intelligence officials said in February that they thought North Korea made good on its promise to do it, although some experts questioned over the summer whether the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon is running on full power. If the facility is running at full power, experts think the reactor there could make enough plutonium for one bomb per year. According to Pyongyang, the nuclear reactor is running at full power.
Experts think North Korea has enough nuclear material to make about 12 bombs.