April 2, 2013

North Korea vows to restart nuclear facilities

The Associated Press

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South Korean Marines' K-55 self-propelled howitzers are covered by smoke during a military exercise in the border city between two Koreas, Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea on Tuesday, as North Korea vows to restart a nuclear reactor that can make one bomb's worth of plutonium a year.

AP

But experts say plutonium is considered better for building small warheads, which North Korea needs if it is going to put them on missiles. Analysts say they don't believe North Korea currently has mastered such miniaturization technology.

Scientist and nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker has estimated that Pyongyang has 24 to 42 kilograms of plutonium — enough for perhaps four to eight rudimentary bombs similar to the plutonium weapon used on Nagasaki in World War II.

It's not known whether the North's latest atomic test, in February, used highly enriched uranium or plutonium stockpiles. South Korea and other countries have so far failed to detect radioactive elements that may have leaked from the test and which could determine what kind of device was used.

"North Korea is dispelling any remaining uncertainties about its intention for developing nuclear arms. It is making it clear that its nuclear arms program is the essence of its national security and that it's not negotiable," said Sohn Yong-woo, a professor at the Graduate School of National Defense Strategy of Hannam University in South Korea.

"North Korea is more confident about itself than ever after the third nuclear test," Sohn said. "That confidence is driving the leadership toward more aggressive nuclear development."

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