January 12, 2017 09:45
North Korea's plutonium stockpile has grown to some 50 kg, enough to make two or three more nuclear weapons, according to South Korea's 2016 defense white paper.
The white paper issued by the Defense Ministry on Wednesday carries latest information on the North Korean military, including its nuclear, missile and conventional military capacities. It says the North has about 50 kg of weapons-grade plutonium from reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods.
The amount is calculated by tallying the plutonium acquired from the reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear facility, which reopened in 2013 and subtracting the plutonium spent on recent nuclear tests, a military spokesman said. It was estimated jointly by the U.S. and South Korea.
The white paper also notes that the North "has made significant progress in a highly enriched uranium program and miniaturizing nuclear warheads," but gives no specific data.
The ministry previously estimated the North's plutonium stockpile at 40 kg since 2008 but has come under fire for making no efforts to change that estimate despite two more nuclear tests since then and the reopening of the Yongbyon reactor.
It also notes new Scud-ER missiles with a range of 1,000 km. The North fired three of them toward Japan on Sept. 5 last year. The Scud-ER could be capable of delivering nuclear warheads to any target in South Korea from the rear. The most effective defense is believed to be the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery planned for deployment here.
The white paper says the North has an intercontinental ballistic missile in development that could threaten the U.S. mainland and is developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Each of them could in theory be equipped with nuclear warheads. But it takes a dimmer view of the North's long-range missile capabilities than two years ago.
The 2014 defense white paper said that the North was believed to "have the overall capability to threaten the U.S. mainland." But the new document makes no mention of this.
"Most of the North's eight test-launches of the Musudan missile ended in failure last year," the spokesman said. "We decided to hold back our assessment of the North's ICBMs that have been deployed without sufficient test-launches like the Musudan."
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