(MENAFN - Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) North Korea is believed to now have enough large stocks of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium for up to six bombs, the Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency reported Wednesday, citing a local nuclear expert.
The North has long been believed to have enough radioactive material for six to seven bombs using plutonium from its main nuclear complex located at Yongbyon, north of the capital Pyongyang.
Since 2009, Pyongyang appears to have started relying on enrichment activities because of its dwindling stock of plutonium after two rounds of nuclear tests. In November 2010, North Korea disclosed an industrial-scale uranium enrichment plant to a visiting US scientist, claiming that the enrichment program is for peaceful energy development.
However, outside experts believe that it gives the North a new source of fissile material to make atomic bombs."If the North Korean claim is true, it could allow the North to make some 40 kilograms of highly enriched uranium per year, enough for one or two atomic weapons," the South Korean nuclear expert was quoted as saying.
On the assumption that the North's enrichment plant became operational in 2009, Pyongyang could have produced stocks of highly enriched uranium enough for three to six bombs, the expert said. "North Korea has some 3,000 nuclear-related experts," he said, adding the North has an estimated 26 million tons of natural uranium deposits.
Speculations have grown that North Korea may be readying for a nuclear test following its failed launch of a long-range rocket last month, which drew swift condemnation from the United Nations Security Council. Pyongyang's previous unsuccessful launches of long-range rockets in 2006 and 2009 were followed by nuclear tests of plutonium devices and some analysts believe, if the North conducts a third test, it will use a device using highly enriched uranium for the first time.
North Korea is currently under UN sanctions for its defiant missile and nuclear tests in 2009 and is set to face tougher sanctions in the wake of the April 13 launch of a long-range rocket.