How serious is Pyongyang’s nuclear menace?
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
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.