Thu, Feb 22, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Pyongyang capable of medium-range nuclear detonations

AFP , SEOUL

North Korea is capable of arming its medium-range Nodong missile with a crude nuclear warhead, two US experts said in a report released yesterday.

The report by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) also estimates that the communist state has separated enough plutonium to build about five to 12 nuclear weapons.

It says the North's strategy, given the presumed limits of its arsenal, is based on deterring any attack.

"In such a case, the detonation of nuclear weapons as `warning shots' in a crisis might result," the report said.

In the early stage of a crisis, the ISIS report says, a nuclear test could be staged to prevent further escalation.

"If that failed to stop the crisis, it may detonate a warhead over the sea as a further demonstration," it said.

Should war break out, "North Korea would be expected to use its nuclear weapons against military targets and population centers in South Korea or Japan."

The North, which agreed in principle last week to disable its nuclear facilities, has been working to develop a nuclear warhead for the Nodong since at least 1994, say the report's authors, ISIS chief David Albright and Paul Brannan.

"North Korea is judged capable of putting a crude [nuclear] warhead on a Nodong missile," said the report, which follows a visit by former UN nuclear inspector Albright and former State Department official Joel Wit to Pyongyang early this month.

The Nodong, a variant of the Soviet Scud with a potential range of 1,000km to 1,300 km, could reach parts of Japan. But the report says the warhead may not be reliable and may have a relatively low yield.

It estimates that North Korea has a plutonium stockpile of 46kg to 64kg of which 28kg to 50kg are estimated to be in separated form and usable in weapons.

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