North Korea nuclear threat: Kim hell-bent on building terrifying arsenal, warns expert

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And there is already evidence of activity at the Hermit State’s Yongbyon nuclear facility, Oli Heinonen, a Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center think tank and a former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). His alarming analysis suggests Kim’s ambitions could fuel an arms race with neighbouring South Korea, as Seoul takes steps to match Pyong Yang’s ambitions.

Writing on the 38 North website, which is dedicated to consideration of events within the secretive communist regime, Mr Heinonen focused on the Eighth Party Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) earlier this month.

The nation’s leadership had announced various plans and programs including the development of miniaturised nuclear warheads, tactical nuclear weapons, multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), solid-fuel ballistic missiles of varying ranges, nuclear propulsion systems for submarines, and hypersonic boost-glide vehicles.

Mr Heinonen wrote: “There are already indications at Yongbyon and defence-related institutes that activity in support of these plans is underway.

“This is an ambitious program for a small country, which is suffering from economic mismanagement, severe United Nations (UN) sanctions, and the effects of the pandemic and natural disasters.”

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Some of these projects had been in development in recent years – but it would take more than a decade to field advanced systems such as MIRVs fitted with nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines with missiles and hypersonic glide weapons, he stressed.

In order to do, North Korea would need to increase production of fissile material -plutonium and enriched uranium – and testing of nuclear warheads in what would be clear violations of the provisions of UN Security Council resolutions.

In order to meet the near-term requirements for the production of plutonium and uranium, North Korea would need to construct an additional nuclear reactor to produce plutonium, expand its current spent fuel reprocessing and uranium enrichment capabilities, increase uranium mining, milling, conversion, and nuclear fuel fabrication both for the 5 MWe reactor and the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) at Yongbyon, Mr Heinonen explained.

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In addition it would likely need to build another nuclear test site to conduct higher-yield nuclear weapon tests, while new infrastructure would need to be built to implement the North’s stated nuclear plans.

Mr Heinonen said any activities at Yongbyon would be visible in satellite imagery.

He added: “In his closing speech, Kim Jong Un also indicated that the North may have failed in munition production.

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“Public reports of the Party Congress did not provide details on these failures, but it may suggest that North Korea did not achieve all its targets in developing the nuclear deterrent.

“One indication of this is the slow commissioning of the ELWR in Yongbyon, which is well behind the target operating dates disclosed in 2010.

“Kim also emphasised in his speeches further building the national defense capacity in quality and quantity, which includes strengthening “the nuclear war deterrent.”

“Kim’s statements will certainly raise concerns, particularly in the US, China, South Korea and Japan.

“Miniaturisation of nuclear warheads is essential in building tactical nuclear warheads for shorter-range missiles threatening the ROK, Japan and US forces based in the area.

“Over the longer-term, the strengthening of the North’s nuclear deterrent will also boost South Korea’s aspirations to acquire submarines with nuclear propulsion in response to North Korean threats and Japanese ambitions to go ahead with its plans to develop, inter alia, hypersonic glide missiles with conventional warheads to counter current and future North Korean (and Chinese) missile capabilities.”

Mr Heinonen warned: “North Korea’s nuclear plans, while they may be constrained by limited resources, are likely aimed at establishing a fait accompli in advance of possible denuclearisation talks with the Biden administration and increasing the North’s leverage in these negotiations.”

Kim’s nuclear ambitions have been well-publicised and a series of missile tests in 2017 triggered fears of a dramatic conflict.

Despite three summits with outgoing US President Donald Trump, North Korea has not given up its nuclear weapons programme.

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