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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

North Korea Boosts Fissile Material Stockpile

A study released yesterday indicates that North Korea is likely to have bolstered its stockpile of fissile material more than sixfold since U.S. President George W. Bush took office in 2001, Reuters reported (see GSN, June 26).

The report, issued by the Institute for Science and International Security, concludes that Pyongyang has moved from possessing sufficient plutonium for no more than two nuclear weapons to having enough for up to 13.

The study also predicts that it could have material for more than 17 bombs by 2009.

“We conclude that North Korea is estimated to now have enough separated plutonium to develop a credible nuclear arsenal, on the order of 4 to 13 nuclear weapons and similar in size to South Africa’s nuclear weapons arsenal in the late 1980s at the height of its effort,” said co-authors David Albright and Paul Brannan.

While the authors said that North Korea presently is unlikely to transfer the materials to a third party, they argued that could change in a “few years” if current production levels continue.

They added that a 50-megawatt reactor still under construction would lead to a tenfold increase Pyongyang’s plutonium production capacity. However, there have been no signs in the last few months of major construction efforts on the project, Reuters reported.

The report says North Korea is “likely able to build a crude nuclear warhead for its (medium-range) Nodong missile.”

However, “there is little evidence to suggest that North Korea is capable of making a nuclear warhead light enough for the [long-range] Taepodong 2 missile,” it adds (Carol Giacomo, Reuters, June 26).
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