South Korea claimed Wednesday that North Korea has built up enough weapons-grade plutonium to make 10 nuclear weapons.
Via its biennial defense white paper, Seoul for the first time directly highlighted the potential danger posed by North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).
Combined with 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of weapons-grade plutonium -- a 10-kg increase in two years -- the North appears to be enhancing its threat to stated enemies as far away as the United States, despite U.S. President-elect Donald Trump recently brushing aside such concerns.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared in his New Year’s address that his country is set to test an ICBM, while the reclusive state’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried an article Wednesday warning that the U.S. can never be comfortable even 10,000 km away.
Seoul’s defense ministry also repeated its previous report’s claim that Pyongyang continues to advance towards being able to miniaturize warheads.
The recognition of North Korea’s nuclear strength comes at a bad time domestically, with South Korean President Park Geun-gye currently going through an impeachment trial over a power abuse scandal.
Unlike the defense white paper released in early 2015, Park was absent from the latest report, which instead mentioned Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.
Hwang’s interim leadership has maintained Park’s course on North Korea, however, including by stressing the need to make sure Pyongyang feels the weight of the world’s pressure over its weapon ambitions.
The United Nations Security Council adopted two resolutions against the North last year, following an unprecedented pair of nuclear tests and multiple rocket and missile launches.
By Alex Jensen in Seoul