World

North Korean Nuke Production Enters ‘New Phase’

North Korea has doubled the size of its uranium-enrichment facility in recent years, the United Nations atomic watchdog revealed Monday.

North Korea is evidently pursuing greater production of both plutonium and uranium, possibly representing an intensified effort by the North to advance its nuclear program, Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told The Wall Street Journal. The North appears to be enhancing its ability to produce nuclear weapons.

“The situation is very bad … It has gone into a new phase,” Amano told WSJ reporters. “All of the indications point to the fact that North Korea is making progress, as they declared.”

North Korea considers the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence the only viable long-term security options. “Our army and people will continuously bolster up our nuclear deterrent,” the Rodong Sinmun, the paper of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party, wrote Monday, repeating previous claims by the regime that the North is expanding its ability to wage nuclear war against its enemies. Pyongyang has repeatedly vowed to obliterate the U.S. and its allies with its “treasured nuclear sword.”

North Korea expelled the IAEA in 2009 as de-nuclearization talks fell through.

While the inspectors are not permitted to conduct in-country evaluations, the IAEA continues to monitor the production of nuclear material and the development of nuclear weapons via satellite imagery.

North Korea has two separate facilities for the development of plutonium and uranium. The South estimated in January that the North has enough plutonium to make ten nuclear bombs. The report further noted that North Korea has “considerable” ability to produce nuclear weapons using highly-enriched uranium. The dual facilities give North Korea the ability to develop a much larger nuclear arsenal. While Amano would not speculate on how many nuclear warheads North Korea could produce, some U.S. and Chinese officials believe the number could be as high as 40.

Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all attempted to rein in North Korea, and all were ultimately unsuccessful. North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, each with a larger explosive yield than the last.

Tillerson has called for a “new approach” to North Korea, but the specifics are unclear. U.S. policy on North Korea under the new administration is still being formulated. “I can’t say that we found any solutions, but we’re continuing those conversations,” Department of State spokesman Mark Toner said Monday.

“There are, at the moment, no constraints that would prevent North Korea from expanding its arsenal,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told The Korea Times last September, a few days after North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test.

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