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Another North Korean Nuke Test Could Come As Early As Next Month

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter

North Korea announced that it is already prepared to conduct another nuclear test, and tests may come as early as next month, according to sources.

Satellite images of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site indicate that Pyongyang could carry out not one, but three nuclear tests at any time, Joel S. Wit, a visiting scholar with the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, revealed in a New York Times op-ed article Tuesday. Wit also indicated that the test may take place in early October.

“Since North Koreans often celebrate important dates with spectacular shows, the approaching 10th anniversary of its first nuclear detonation on Oct. 9 might be the perfect occasion,” explained Wit.

Were North Korea to conduct another test next month, it would make three nuclear tests in a single year. The accelerated pace of testing suggests that North Korea may be able to develop more powerful weapons and much more effective delivery systems much earlier than anticipated.

North Korea claims that it tested a standardized nuclear warhead capable of being mounted on a ballistic missile during last Friday’s test. Furthermore, experts argue that North Korea can produce a bomb with a yield of at least 10 kilotons.

North Korea can produce enough plutonium for about one nuclear bomb each year, argues Siegfried S. Hecker, senior fellow and affiliated faculty member at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

North Korea has a stockpile of around 32 to 54 kilograms of plutonium presently. With its current rate of collection, it could produce 6 to 8 nuclear bombs. There is also a possibility that North Korea could make as many as 16 plutonium bombs. North Korea can generate an estimated 150 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium (HEU), which enables production of six nuclear bombs. It is suspected that North Korea has an existing HEU stockpile of 300 to 400 kilograms.  In theory, North Korea could have at least 20 nuclear bombs by the end of the year and produce at least seven nuclear weapons each year.

In managing the North Korean nuclear crisis, the U.S. and its allies have struggled to find a suitable solution. Sanctions, military force, and trying to get China to solve the problem have all proven ineffective at deterring North Korea’s interests in nuclear weaponry. So, short of sending Kim Jong Un an exploding Samsung phone, the U.S. may need to reassess its policies towards North Korea.

“The first five hundred days in office will be critical for the next American president. If a window is open to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, it may not stay open for long,” Wit wrote in the New York Times.

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