Note: North Korea nuclear // Locator map of North Korea // North Korean missile range
The Korean Central News Agency claims that "The Bush administration's DPRK policy that stemmed from its ignorance of the DPRK resulted in making the DPRK a nuclear weapons state." North Korea has been suspected of maintaining a clandestine nuclear weapons development program since the early 1980s, when it constructed a plutonium-producing Magnox nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. Various diplomatic means have been used by the international community to attempt to limit North Korea's nuclear program to peaceful power generation and to encourage North Korea to participate in international treaties. During the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students, which was held in the DPRK in 1989, South Korean activist and "Flower of Reunification" Lim Su-kyung implied that the DPRK should not seek nuclear weapons, saying: "The slogan 'Let us build a new world free from nuclear weapons!' will not be materialized by words alone. I'd like you to resolutely struggle against the anti-reunification forces, and give us support and encouragement. I, too, want to live in a country free from nuclear weapons; in my own land, and not infested with foreign forces and foreign army troops."
In May 1992, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) first inspection in North Korea uncovered discrepancies suggesting that the country had reprocessed more plutonium than declared. IAEA requested access to additional information and access to two nuclear waste sites at Yongbyon. North Korea rejected the IAEA request and announced on March 12, 1993, an intention to withdraw from the NPT.
In 1994, North Korea pledged, under the "Agreed Framework" with the United States, to freeze its plutonium programs and dismantle all its nuclear weapons programs in return for several kinds of assistance, including construction of two modern nuclear power plants powered by light-water reactors.
By 2002, the United States believed North Korea was pursuing both uranium enrichment technology and plutonium reprocessing technologies in defiance of the Agreed Framework. North Korea reportedly told American diplomats in private that they were in possession of nuclear weapons, citing American failures to uphold their own end of the "Agreed Framework" as a motivating force. North Korea later "clarified" that it did not possess weapons yet, but that it had "a right" to possess them, despite the Agreed Framework. In late 2002 and early 2003, North Korea began to take steps to eject International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors while re-routing spent fuel rods to be used for plutonium reprocessing for weapons purposes. As late as the end of 2003, North Korea claimed that it would freeze its nuclear program in exchange for additional American concessions, but a final agreement was not reached. North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003.
On October 9, 2006, North Korea demonstrated its nuclear capabilities with its first underground nuclear test, detonating a plutonium based device and the estimated yield was 0.2–1 kiloton. The test was conducted at P'unggye-yok, and U.S. intelligence officials later announced that analysis of radioactive debris in air samples collected a few days after the test confirmed that the blast had taken place. The UN Security Council condemned the test in Resolution 1874.
Aftermath of 2006 nuclear test
On January 6, 2007, the North Korean government further confirmed that it had nuclear weapons.
In February 2007, following the six-party talks disarmament process, Pyongyang agreed to shut down its main nuclear reactor. On October 8, 2008, IAEA inspectors were forbidden by the North Korean government to conduct further inspections of the site.
On April 25, 2009, the North Korean government announced the country's nuclear facilities had been reactivated, and that spent fuel reprocessing for arms-grade plutonium has been restored.
On May 25, 2009, North Korea conducted its second underground nuclear test. The U.S. Geological Survey calculated its origin in proximity of the site of the first nuclear test. The test was more powerful than the previous test, estimated at 2 to 7 kilotons. The same day, a successful short range missile test was also conducted.
On February 12, monitors in Asia picked up unusual seismic activity at a North Korean facility at 11:57 (02:57 GMT), later determined to be an artificial quake with an initial magnitude 4.9 (later revised to 5.1). The Korean Central News Agency subsequently said that the country had detonated a miniaturized nuclear device with "greater explosive force" in an underground test. According to the Korea Institute of Geosciences and Mineral Resources, the estimated yield was 7.7–7.8 kilotons.
December 2015 hydrogen bomb claim
In December 2015, Kim Jong-un suggested that the country had the capacity to launch a hydrogen bomb, a device of considerably more power than conventional atomic bombs used in previous tests. The remark was met with skepticism from the White House and from South Korean officials.
First claimed North Korean hydrogen bomb test
On January 6, after reports of a magnitude 5.1 earthquake originating in northeast North Korea at 10:00:01 UTC+08:30, the country's regime released statements that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. Whether this was in fact a hydrogen bomb has yet to be proven. Experts have cast doubt on this claim. A South Korean spy expert suggested that it may have been an atomic bomb and not a hydrogen bomb. Experts in several countries, including South Korea have expressed doubts about the claimed technology because of the relatively small size of the explosion. Senior Defense Analyst Bruce W. Bennett of research organization RAND told the BBC that "... Kim Jong-un is either lying, saying they did a hydrogen test when they didn't, they just used a little bit more efficient fission weapon – or the hydrogen part of the test really didn't work very well or the fission part didn't work very well."
Aftermath of claimed North Korean hydrogen bomb test
On March 9, 2016, North Korea released a video of Kim Jong Un visiting a missile factory. The international community was skeptical, IHS Jane's Karl Dewey said that "It is possible that the silver sphere is a simple atomic bomb. But it is not a hydrogen bomb." Furthermore, he said "a hydrogen bomb would not only be in two parts but also be a different shape".
Nations across the world, as well as NATO and the UN, spoke out against the tests as destabilizing, as a danger to international security and as a breach of UN Security Council resolutions. China, one of North Korea's allies, also denounced the test.
First nuclear warhead test explosion
On September 9, 2016, a 5.3 seismic tremor was detected by seismograms in surrounding countries, after which North Korea confirmed it conducted another nuclear test. North Korea stated that this test has enabled them to confirm that its warhead can be mounted to a missile and to verify the warhead's power. It was previously doubted that North Korea could pair the nuclear warhead and missile together, but South Korean experts started to believe that North Korea can accomplish this goal within a few years after the September 9 nuclear test.
On February 18, 2017, China announced a ban on coal imports from North Korea, aimed at curbing their nuclear-missile development program.
- China announced that it was suspending all imports of coal from North Korea as part of its effort to enact United Nations Security Council sanctions aimed at stopping the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile program.
On March 6, 2017, North Korea launched four ballistic missiles from the Tongchang-ri region towards the Sea of Japan. The launch was condemned by the United Nations as well as South Korea. The move prompted US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to embark on a diplomatic mission ten days later to Japan, South Korea and China, in an effort to address the heightened international tension in the region. On April 13, 2017, White House representative Nick Rivero was quoted saying the United States was "very close" to engaging in some sort of retaliation towards North Korea. President Trump commented on North Korea by saying they will fight the war on terrorism no matter the cost.
On April 15, 2017, at the yearly major public holiday also known in the country as the Day of the Sun, North Korea staged a massive military parade to commemorate the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder and grandfather of current leader, Kim Jong-un. The parade took place amid hot speculation in the United States, Japan, and South Korea that the country would also potentially test a sixth nuclear device, but failed to do so. The parade did show off, for the first time, two new intercontinental ballistic missile-sized canisters as well as submarine-launched ballistic missiles and a land-based version of the same.
On April 16, 2017, hours after the military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea attempted to launch a ballistic missile from a site near the port of Sinpo, on the country's east coast. The missile exploded seconds after launch.
Later that month, after a visit to Washington by the top Chinese leader, the US State Department announced that North Korea is likely to face economic sanctions from China if it conducts any further tests.
On April 28, 2017, North Korea launched an unidentified ballistic missile over the Pukchang airfield, in North Korean territory. It blew up shortly after take-off at approximately 70 kilometers (44 miles) altitude.
On July 4, 2017, North Korea launched Hwasong-14 from Banghyon airfield, near Kusong, in a lofted trajectory it claims lasted 39 minutes for 578 miles (930 km), landing in the waters of the Japanese exclusive economic zone. US Pacific Command says the missile was aloft for 37 minutes, meaning that in a standard trajectory it could have reached all of Alaska, a distance of 4,160 miles (6,690 km). By targeting the deep waters in the Sea of Japan, North Korea is ensuring that American or Japanese divers will encounter difficulties when attempting to recover Hwasong-14's engine. Equally, North Korea is not attempting to recover any re-entry debris either, which South Korea points out is an indication that this first launch is of an ICBM which is far from ready for combat. As of July 2017, the U.S. estimates that North Korea will have a reliable nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by early 2018. On July 28, North Korea launched a second, apparently more advanced, ICBM, with altitude around 3,700 km, that traveled 1,000 km; analysts estimated that it was capable of reaching the continental United States.
John Schilling estimates the current accuracy of the North's Hwasong-14 as poor, at the mooted ranges which threaten US cities. Michael Elleman points out that the 28 July 2017 missile re-entry vehicle broke up on re-entry; further testing would be required. On 8 August 2017 The Washington Post reported that the Defense Intelligence Agency, in a confidential assessment, state that North Korea has sufficiently miniaturized a nuclear warhead to fit inside one of its long-range missiles.On August 12th The Diplomat reported that the Central Intelligence Agency in confidential assessment from early august has concluded that reentry vehicle in July 28th test of Hwasong-14 didn't survive atsmospheric reentry due to apogee of 3700 kilometers which caused structural stresses in excess of what an ICBM would have had in minimum energy trajectory which one of conclussions of CIA's assessment of North Korean reentry vehicle is advanced enough it would likely survive reentry under normal trajectory.
Fissile material production
- One Soviet-supplied IRT-2000 research reactor, completed in 1967. Uranium irradiated in this reactor was used in North Korea's first plutonium separation experiments in 1975. Nevertheless, the primary purpose of the reactor is not to produce plutonium and North Korea has had trouble acquiring enough fuel for constant operation. The U.S. Department of Energy estimated that this reactor could have been used to produce up to 1–2 kg of plutonium, though the Joint Atomic Energy Intelligence Committee said that the amount was no more than a few hundred grams.
- A newer nuclear reactor with a capacity of 5MWe. This gas-graphite moderated Magnox type reactor is North Korea's main reactor, where practically all of its plutonium has been produced. A full core consists of 8,000 fuel rods and can yield a maximum of 27–29 kg of plutonium if left in the reactor for optimal burnup. The North Korean Plutonium Stock, Mid-2006, is estimated to be able to produce 0.9 grams of plutonium per thermal megawatt every day of its operation. The material required to make a single bomb is approximately four to eight kilograms. Often, North Korea has unloaded the reactor before reaching the maximum burnup level. There are three known cores which were unloaded in 1994 (under IAEA supervision in accordance with the Agreed Framework), 2005, and 2007.
- In 1989, the 5MWe reactor was shut down for a period of seventy to a hundred days. In this time it is estimated that up to fifteen kilograms of plutonium could have been extracted. In 1994, North Korea unloaded its reactors again. The IAEA had these under full surveillance until later being denied the ability to observe North Korean power plants. Under normal operation, the reactor can produce about 6 kg of plutonium per year although the reactor would need to be shut down and the fuel rods extracted to begin the plutonium separation process. Hence, plutonium separation stages alternate with plutonium production stages. Reprocessing (also known as separation) is known to have taken place in 2003 for the first core and 2005 for the second core.
- Two Magnox reactors (50MWe and 200MWe), under construction at Yongbyon and Taechon. If completed, 50MWe reactor would be capable of producing 60 kg of plutonium per year, enough for approximately 10 weapons and 200MWe reactor 220 kg of plutonium annually, enough for approximately 40 weapons. Construction was halted in 1994 about a year from completion in accord with the Agreed Framework, and by 2004 the structures and pipework had deteriorated badly.
- Fuel reprocessing facility that recovers uranium and plutonium from spent fuel using the PUREX process. Based on extended Eurochemic reprocessing plant design at the Mol-Dessel site in Belgium. In 1994 its activity was frozen in accord with the Agreed Framework. On April 25, 2009, North Korean news agency KCNA, reported the resumption of reprocessing of spent fuel to recover plutonium.
On March 12, 1993, North Korea said that it planned to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and refused to allow IAEA inspectors access to its nuclear sites. By 1994, the United States believed that North Korea had enough reprocessed plutonium to produce about 10 bombs with the amount of plutonium increasing. Faced with diplomatic pressure after UN Security Council Resolution 825 and the threat of American military air strikes against the reactor, North Korea agreed to dismantle its plutonium program as part of the Agreed Framework in which South Korea and the United States would provide North Korea with light water reactors and fuel oil until those reactors could be completed.
Because the light water reactors would require enriched uranium to be imported from outside North Korea, the amount of reactor fuel and waste could be more easily tracked, making it more difficult to divert nuclear waste to be reprocessed into plutonium. However, the Agreed Framework was mired in difficulties, with each side blaming the other for the delays in implementation; as a result, the light water reactors were never finished. In late 2002, after fuel aid was suspended, North Korea returned to using its old reactors.
In 2006, there were eight sites identified as potential test explosion sites for current (and future) tests according to a statement by the South Korean Parliament. These sites are distinguished from a number of other nuclear materials production facilities in that they are thought to be most closely identified with a military, or potentially military purpose:
1. Hamgyong Bukdo (North Hamgyong) Province – 2 Sites:
- Chungjinsi – Nuclear fuel storage site, military base and unidentified underground facility
- Kiljugun – Extensive military buildup with motorized troop formations and construction of new advanced underground facility – Site of May 25, 2009, Nuclear Test.
- Phunggyere – Site of October 9, 2006, Nuclear Test
2. Chagangdo Province – 1 Site: Kanggyesi – Production center of North Korea's advanced equipment and munitions since 1956. Also, extensive intelligence of highly advanced underground facility.
3. Pyongan Bukdo (North Pyongan) Province – 4 Sites:
- Yongbyonsi – 2 Sites – Location of Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center, and the facility's Experimental Test Explosion facility and two unidentified underground facilities. In addition, there is a gas-graphite reactor, HE test site, nuclear fuel fabrication site, nuclear waste storage site
- Kusungsi – Between 1997 and September 2002, approximately 70 test explosions of North Korean munitions took place. Also, existence of underground facility
- Taechongun – 200MWe Nuclear Energy Plant construction site. Location of unidentified underground facility and nuclear arms/energy related facilities known to exist
4. Pyongan Namdo (South Pyongan) Province – 1 Site: Pyongsungsi – Location of National Science Academy and extensive underground facility whose purpose is not known.
Highly enriched uranium program
North Korea possesses uranium mines containing an estimated 4 million tons of high grade uranium ore.
Prime minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan allegedly, through Pakistan's former top scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, supplied key data, stored on CDs, on uranium enrichment and information to North Korea in exchange for missile technology around 1990–1996, according to U.S. intelligence officials. President Pervez Musharraf and Prime minister Shaukat Aziz acknowledged in 2005 that Khan had provided centrifuges and their designs to North Korea. In May 2008, Khan, who had previously confessed to supplying the data on his own initiative, retracted his confession, claiming that the Pakistan Government forced him to be a "scapegoat". He also claimed that North Korea's nuclear program was well advanced before his visits to North Korea.
Highly enriched uranium (HEU) program was publicized in October 2002 when the United States asked North Korean officials about the program. Under the Agreed Framework, North Korea explicitly agreed to freeze plutonium programs (specifically, its "graphite moderated reactors and related facilities"). The agreement also committed North Korea to implement the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in which both Koreas committed not to have enrichment or reprocessing facilities. The United States argued North Korea violated its commitment not to have enrichment facilities.
In December 2002, claiming North Korean non-compliance, the United States persuaded the KEDO Board to suspend fuel oil shipments, which led to the end of the Agreed Framework. North Korea responded by announcing plans to reactivate a dormant nuclear fuel processing program and power plant north of Pyongyang. North Korea soon thereafter expelled United Nations inspectors and announced a unilateral "withdrawal" from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In 2007, a Bush administration official assessed that, while there was still a "high confidence" that North Korea acquired materials that could be used in a "production-scale" uranium program, there is only a "mid-confidence" level such a production-scale uranium (rather than merely plutonium) program exists.
Stockpile estimates and projections
Institute for Science and International Security
For 2013, the Institute for Science and International Security gives a mid-range estimate of 12 to 27 "nuclear weapon equivalents", including plutonium and uranium stockpiles. By 2016, North Korea was projected to have 14 to 48 nuclear weapon equivalents. Meanwhile, the estimate was dropped to 13 to 30 nuclear weapon equivalents in 2017. (For uranium weapons, each weapon is assumed to contain 20 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium.)
As of 2012, the Federation of American Scientists estimates North Korea has fewer than 10 plutonium warheads.
As of January 2013, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates North Korea has 6 to 8 warheads.