North Korea could possess enough plutonium and enriched uranium by the end of 2016 to build twenty nuclear bombs, says a prominent American nuclear scientist.
Siegfried Hecker, director from 1986 to 1997 of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the principal nuclear facility of the US government, provides an estimate of the nuclear material held by the Pyongyang regime in an article published this week by the Korean-American institute of Johns Hopkins University.
He says the latest North Korean test of September 9th, the fifth in ten years, “must be interpreted with great concern” because it not only reflects the North Korean capabilities but also the enormous accumulation of nuclear arsenal carried by Pyongyang.
Mr. Hecker estimates that the Hermit Kingdom would be able to have 32 to 54 kilograms of plutonium, but also from 300 to 400 kilos of uranium by the end of the year. The country could produce enough material to make 7 bombs per year.
The researcher, as a member of the Center for International Security and Cooperation, was able to participate in the inspection of North Korean nuclear facilities in 2010.
He believes that if Pyongyang is not monitored, the regime could probably develop the ability to reach the continental United States in a decade, he wrote. “Even more disturbing now, the recent nuclear success of Pyongyang can give a false sense of confidence and drastically change the regional security dynamics,” says the scientist.
Last week, the North Korean regime had confirmed having conducted a fifth nuclear test, “the most powerful to date,” according to South Korea. An earthquake of magnitude 5.3 was detected near the site where Pyongyang carries out its tests.
“Our nuclear scientists conducted a nuclear test explosion of a newly developed nuclear warhead at the the nuclear test site in the north of the country,” said a presenter on the official North Korean television. “Our (…) party has sent a message of congratulations to our nuclear scientists (…) for having conducted a successful test explosion of a nuclear warhead,” she added.
These tests are in violation of the non-proliferation treaty of the United Nations.