How se­ri­ous is Py­ongyang’s nu­clear men­ace?

New Straits Times - - World -

WASH­ING­TON: United States in­tel­li­gence be­lieves North Korea has now built a nu­clear weapon small enough to fit onto a bal­lis­tic mis­sile, mak­ing it a po­tent threat against neigh­bours and pos­si­bly the United States, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported on Tues­day.

The coun­try’s nu­clear ad­vances have pro­ceeded much more quickly than ex­pected, but ex­perts say North Korea still needs sig­nif­i­cant tech­no­log­i­cal gains in or­der to be­come a fullfledged nu­clear threat.

Py­ongyang has con­ducted five nu­clear bomb tests, with the last one on Sept 9 last year, roughly the size of the nu­clear bomb the US dropped on Na­gasaki in 1945: 20 to 30 kilo­tonnes.

This year, it demon­strated an abil­ity to launch an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile (ICBM) in two tests. The most re­cent of them, on July 28, showed a mis­sile with a the­o­ret­i­cal range of 10,000km, mean­ing it could hit much of the US and Europe.

Be­sides re­li­able mis­siles with ac­cu­rate tar­get­ing tech­nol­ogy, Py­ongyang needs to make sure its bombs would sur­vive a 25,800kph re-en­try from the at­mos­phere on an ICBM.

Ac­cord­ing to Michael Elle­man, of the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies, the re-en­try ve­hi­cle on the July 28 test had likely dis­in­te­grated.

Siegfried Hecker, a Stan­ford Univer­sity nu­clear ex­pert, said it could be an­other five years be­fore North Korea had an ad­e­quately ro­bust re-en­try ve­hi­cle.

Hecker, who had vis­ited North Korea to view its nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties, said its weapons pro­gramme was deeply con­strained by its small sup­ply of uranium and plu­to­nium.

Com­bined, he said, its uranium and plu­to­nium sup­plies were likely enough for 20 to 25 nu­clear weapons.

But, ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post re­port, the US De­fence In­tel­li­gence Agency be­lieves the coun­try had up to 60 nu­clear weapons in its stock­pile. AFP

AGENCY PIX

Pic­tures re­leased by the US De­part­ment of De­fence yes­ter­day show­ing an aerial view of Naval Base Guam with sev­eral navy ves­sels in port and (in­set) a B-1B Lancer bomber tak­ing off from An­der­sen Air Force Base in Guam.

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