North Korea could own up to 45 nuclear arms by 2020 owing to an anticipated rise in its reserves of plutonium and enriched uranium and its growing pace of arms development, a South Korean expert said on Thursday.

Pyongyang is thought to currently possess around 280 kg of highly enriched uranium, said Lee Sang-hyun, vice president at the research planning division of the Sejong Institute, one of the country’s most influential think tanks, Efe news reported.

“Given the amount of fissile material in North Korea’s possession, the country could have about 22-45 nuclear weapons,” he said in his forecast for the next three years.

The country has an existing stockpile of plutonium (estimated to be around 50 kg), and is expected to increase its ability to reprocess this radioactive element — used in making atomic bombs — in the coming years, said Lee.

His projection is based on the belief that Pyongyang, which revived its Yongbyon nuclear research centre in 2013 and seems to have stepped up production of material for bombs, could raise its plutonium-reprocessing capacity to 6 kg per year and expand uranium reserves by 80 kg annually.

Lee said the Kim Jong-un regime seems to have employed enriched uranium for its latest nuclear test in September 2016 and that these technological advances indicate it is increasingly closer to developing nuclear weapons capable of being mounted on ballistic missiles.

North Korea had conducted another nuclear test in January, barely eight months before the September 2016 test, adding to its previous tests of 2006, 2009 and 2013.

First Published | 9 February 2017 2:53 PM
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