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The tally of North Korea’s nuclear weapons


Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear weapons does North Korea have in 2021? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 

By Hans M. KristensenMatt Korda, July 21, 2021  orth Korea has made significant advances over the past two decades in developing a nuclear weapons arsenal. It has detonated six nuclear devices––one with a yield of well over 100 kilotons––and test-flown a variety of new ballistic missiles, several of which may be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to targets in Northeast Asia and potentially in the United States and Europe. However, there is considerable uncertainty about which of North Korea’s missiles have been fielded with an active operational nuclear capability.


It is widely assumed that North Korea has operational nuclear warheads for medium-range missiles. However, it is unclear whether it has managed to develop fully functioning nuclear warheads that can be delivered by long-range ballistic missiles and, following violent atmospheric reentry, detonate as planned. That said, just because North Korea has not yet publicly demonstrated a capability to deliver a functioning nuclear reentry vehicle on a long-range ballistic missile does not necessarily indicate that it is not working on developing one or could not field one in the future. It is clear from its development efforts and public statements that North Korea ultimately intends to field an operational nuclear arsenal capable of holding regional and US targets at risk.

Due to the lack of clarity surrounding North Korea’s nuclear program, agencies and officials of the US intelligence community, as well as military commanders and nongovernmental experts, struggle to assess the program’s characteristics and capabilities. Based on publicly available information about North Korea’s fissile material production and missile posture, we cautiously estimate that North Korea might have produced sufficient fissile material to build 40 to 50 nuclear weapons and that it might possibly have assembled 10 to 20 warheads for delivery by medium-range ballistic missiles.

North Korea’s nuclear policy

North Korea declared a no-first-use policy following its fourth nuclear test in 2016; however, it diluted its statement with the caveat that it would not “be the first to use nuclear weapons […] as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty”………………

Nuclear testing and warhead capabilities

After six nuclear tests––including two with moderate yields and one with a high yield––there is no longer any doubt that North Korea can build powerful nuclear explosive devices designed for different yields. ………………………..

Medium-range ballistic missiles

North Korea has developed three medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), all three of which are likely to be operational. This is the category of missile that is most likely to have an operational nuclear capability…………

Intercontinental ballistic missiles

The most dramatic development has been North Korea’s display and test-launching of large ballistic missiles that appear to have intercontinental range. North Korea has publicly shown five types of missiles in this category: the Taepo Dong-2, the Hwasong-13, the Hwasong-14, the Hwasong-15, and the Hwasong-16. These systems are in various stages of development, and some may simply be mockups or technology demonstrators……………………. https://thebulletin.org/premium/2021-07/nuclear-notebook-how-many-nuclear-weapons-does-north-korea-have-in-2021/


July 22, 2021 - Posted by | North Korea, weapons and war

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