SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean President Kim Jong Un has asked nuclear scientists to increase production of weapons-grade material to increase its arsenal of bombs.
Tuesday’s announcement by state media follows a series of missile tests — seven launches so far this month — and increasing threats to use the weapons against enemies. North Korean weapons tests and joint US-South Korean military exercises have focused on a cycle of provocations and responses, exposing tensions in the region.
Officials say North Korea could in the coming weeks or months deploy its more provocative nuclear weapons program, including the possibility of the first detonation test of a nuclear device after September 2017.
In Monday’s session with officials and scientists to establish the country’s nuclear weapons, Kim emphasized the need to increase bomb production, to “geometrically” expand his nuclear arsenal, and committed to the “big mission” of his nuclear industry.
Kim also reviewed the country’s plans for nuclear targets, as scientists reviewed Pyongyang’s latest nuclear-capable weapons systems and progress in technology for nuclear-armed missiles, the agency said.
Agency photos showed Kim talking to officials inside a room showing what appeared to be various military equipment, including about 10 khaki boxes with red tips and others that looked like black and white cones with fins or a giant torpedo.
A poster hanging nearby described one of the green war machines called “Hwasan-31,” which is based on the Korean word for “volcano,” and indicated that it could be fitted with certain short-range ballistic missile systems. Korean missile ship. The state press did not see from the devices that appeared in the photographs.
After conducting six nuclear tests since 2006, North Korea may have dozens of warheads that can be fitted with its larger systems, such as Scud or Rodong missiles. But there are different estimates of how far the country has come in controlling and engineering such warheads that they can be used in a wide range of new weapons that have been rapidly developed in recent years, perhaps requiring further technological or nuclear tests.
According to a South Korean defense document released in February, North Korea is estimated to have 70 kilograms (154 pounds) of weapons-grade plutonium, which some observers say would be enough to make between 9 and 18 bombs. The document estimates that North Korea also has a “large amount” of highly enriched uranium.
North Korea’s main nuclear complex at Yongbyon has the capacity to produce uranium and highly enriched plutonium, the two main fuels for making nuclear weapons. North Korea is believed to have one other uranium enrichment plant in operation besides the Yongbyon complex.