China believes that North Korea’s production of nuclear weapons production is well beyond most US estimates, suggesting that Pyongyang can make enough warheads to threaten regional security for the United States and its allies.
China’s latest estimates, relayed in a closed-door meeting between US and Chinese nuclear experts, indicate that North Korea may already have 20 warheads, as well as the capability of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to double its arsenal by next year, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people briefed on the matter.
North Korea’s nuclear build-up will raise security fears in Japan and South Korea, both US allies, and prompt them to develop their own nuclear weapons in defense, the newspaper said.
“I’m concerned that by 20, they actually have a nuclear arsenal,” said Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford University professor and former head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who attended the closed-door meeting in February.
“The more they believe they have a fully functional nuclear arsenal and deterrent, the more difficult it’s going to be to walk them back from that.”
Chinese experts also believe North Korea has a greater domestic capacity to enrich uranium than previously thought, Hecker said.
North Korea is said to be capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile called the KN-08, which can reach as far as the US state of California, Adm. William Gortney, head of the US Northern Command, said earlier this month.
Estimates of North Korea’s capabilities by Chinese experts began to align with those in the US after 2010, and moved beyond after 2013, the report said.
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