North Korea has significantly expanding its nuclear weapons production and could have added six or more weapons to its stockpile in the last 18 months, possibly bringing its total arsenal to more than 21 bombs, a US think tank has said.
The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) estimated last year that North Korea had 10 to 16 nuclear weapons at the end of 2014. It based that conclusion on an analysis of the country’s production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium recovered from spent nuclear fuel at its Yongbyon nuclear complex. IAEA inspectors were kicked out of North Korea in 2009.
The director of US National Intelligence, James Clapper, warned in February that the North could begin recovering plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel “within a matter of weeks to months”.
The report came after International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano said last week that North Korea might have reactivated a plant at Yongbyon for reprocessing plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.
Since then, the North has added another four to six weapons to the stockpile for a total of 13 to 21 or more today, ISIS said.
“Nonetheless, this exercise, despite not being comprehensive, shows that North Korea could be significantly increasing its nuclear weapons capabilities”, the Washington-based think tank said.
Amano, citing satellite imagery, said last week in Vienna: “The indications that we have obtained… (are of) activities related to the five-megawatt reactor, expansion of enrichment facilities and activities related to (plutonium) reprocessing.”
North Korea suspended the Yongbyon reactor in 2007 but began renovating it after its third nuclear test in 2013. North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and launched a long-range rocket in the following month that caused the U.N. Security Council to slap tougher sanctions against the reclusive country