North Korea could increase its nuclear arsenal to at least 70 fission bombs by 2020, according to interim findings of a study.
“North Korea is likely to be able to build four to eight small nuclear weapons every year, meaning that its stockpile could possibly grow to 79 or more by the end of 2020 while mastering means of their delivery,” Lee Sang-hyun, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute was quoted as saying by Korea Herald Tuesday.
Lee introduced the interim findings of a comprehensive joint study involving more than 10 diplomatic and security specialists as well as nuclear scientists, economists and psychologists during a seminar hosted in Seoul by the Presidential Committee on Unification Preparation.
In the paper, the team estimated that the communist state held up to 50 kilograms of plutonium and around 300 kilograms of highly enriched uranium.
The projection paints a more advanced scenario of the Kim Jong-un regime’s bomb production capabilities than other assessments, though some put estimate the North could make as many as 100 bombs over the same time frame.
Early last year, Joel Wit of the US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington said the North could have 10 to 16 weapons now, with six to eight of them made from plutonium and four to eight from uranium.
To prevent the forecast from becoming reality, South Korea and the US need to focus on sharpening their long-term strategies, along with their ongoing sanctions drive.
“Our short term outlook is gloomy, as Kim Jong-un would unlikely neither turn to denuclearization negotiations nor give up his nuclear program for now,” Lee said.
“The issue may require a multilayered longer term setup aimed at making the regime choose a nuclear-free economy over its current parallel pursuit of nuclear and economic development, while in the short- and mid-term concentrating international strengths on applying effective sanctions and pressure,” he said.