North Korea has produced enough bomb fuel for up to seven new nuclear weapons during denuclearization talks, study reveals ahead of second summit between Trump and Kim
- Regime has used fuel from a nuclear plant to produce weapons-grade uranium
- It would allow Kim Jong-un to add up to seven weapons to his nuclear arsenal
- Kim and Trump are set to hold their second summit in Vietnam later this month
North Korea has produced enough bomb fuel to build seven more nuclear weapons since talks began with the United States, a study has revealed.
The regime is said to have used spent fuel from a nuclear plant in Yongbyon to produce up to 18 pounds of weapons-grade uranium since May 2018.
Combined with production of 330 pounds of highly enriched uranium, it would allow Kim Jong-un to add between five and seven weapons to his nuclear arsenal.
The finding comes ahead of a second planned summit between the North Korean leader and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Donald Trump meets Kim Jong-un in the first summit between the two countries, in Singapore last June. They are set to meet again in Vietnam later this month
The study by Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation estimated the size of Pyongyang’s arsenal at 30 nuclear weapons, bringing the possible current total up to 37.
Researchers said a pause in testing since 2017 had limited North Korea’s capability but that its weapons posed a real threat to nearby Japan and South Korea.
Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the U.S. Los Alamos weapons laboratory and one of the report’s authors, said satellite imagery showed North Korea’s production of bomb fuel continued in 2018.
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The production came in spite of nuclear talks with the U.S. led by the historic summit in Singapore last June.
U.S. intelligence is not certain how many nuclear warheads North Korea has, with estimates between 20 and 60.
The Stanford report said that North Korea was likely to have continued work on warhead miniaturisation and to ensure they can stand up to delivery via intercontinental ballistic missiles.
But the freeze in nuclear and missile testing greatly limited its ability to make such improvements, the research found.
North Korea is said to have used spent fuel from a nuclear plant (pictured) in Yongbyon to produce up to 18 pounds of weapons-grade uranium since May 2018
‘They have continued the machinery to turn out plutonium and highly enriched uranium,’ Hecker said, ‘but it also depends on weaponization – the design, build and test and then the delivery.
‘When they ended missile testing, those things rolled backwards.
‘So when I look at the whole spectrum, to me North Korea … is less dangerous today than it was at the end of 2017, in spite of the fact that they may have made another five to seven weapons worth of nuclear material.’
The Stanford experts said it was their assessment that ‘North Korea cannot deliver a nuclear warhead with any measure of confidence to the U.S. mainland.’
However Hecker said the regime’s nuclear weapons were a real threat to Japan and South Korea.
Officials are preparing for the second Trump-Kim summit due to be held in Hanoi on February 27 and 28.
Kim pledged during the first summit with Trump June to work towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula but there has been little concrete progress.
In September Kim hinted he could dismantle nuclear facilities at Yongbyon in return for ‘corresponding measures’ by the United States.
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