North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: A Growing Threat
In its recently released annual report on armaments, disarmament, and international security, SIPRI finds that North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear arsenal even as the country has refrained from conducting further nuclear or long-range missile testing. According to the report, North Korea is now believed to be in possession of between 40 and 50 nuclear weapons, an increase from last year’s estimate of 30 to 40 weapons.
SIPRI has based its estimates of North Korea’s nuclear inventory on the number of weapons that the DPRK could build with the fissile material that it has available to it. The report also notes that there is no available evidence suggesting that North Korea has produced a nuclear weapon for use on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), though North Korea may have smaller warheads for use on medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) available.
SIPRI cautions that its estimates of North Korea’s nuclear weapons are “highly uncertain,” and does not include the country’s warheads in the report’s larger tally of global nuclear weapons.
Other experts have recently weighed in on the size of North Korea’s nuclear weapons arsenal with Dr. Siegfried Hecker – a noted nuclear weapons expert with extensive experience studying North Korea’s nuclear weapons program – estimating that the DPRK has somewhere between 20 and 60 nuclear weapons, with the most likely number being around 45. Like the SIPRI report, Dr. Hecker’s estimate is based on the number of weapons that North Korea could produce with its current stockpile of fissile material, as opposed to an estimate of the number of warheads that North Korea currently possesses.
Just How Serious?
Evidence of North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear weapons capabilities has emerged in recent weeks, with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi recently reporting that there have been indications of activity at the Kangson site, which analysts have previously suggested could a uranium enrichment site – though more recent analysis has instead found that Kangson is not a uranium enrichment site, but instead a site dedicated to supporting North Korea’s nuclear program in other ways, including the production of centrifuges.
Other signs of potential North Korea nuclear activity have been observed at the country’s Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center, where steam emanating from the facilities Radiochemistry Laboratory visible through satellite imagery suggests that a reprocessing campaign may be underway.
With North Korea continuing to develop its nuclear weapons capabilities, some experts have projected that the DPRK could be in possession of as many as 151 to 242 nuclear weapons by 2027.