Japan assesses North already miniaturized nuclear bomb

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Japan assesses North already miniaturized nuclear bomb

North Korea has successfully miniaturized its nuclear weapons into warheads, according to a Japanese newspaper which quoted Tokyo’s defense white paper on Wednesday.

According to the conservative daily, Yomiuri Shimbun, the Japanese Defense Ministry upgraded its evaluation of the North’s nuclear weapons in an early draft of a military white paper for this year, which is set to be approved for publication at a cabinet meeting in Japan around mid-September.

Last year’s defense white paper from Tokyo left open room for doubt by saying Pyongyang may have gained the capacity to miniaturize its nuclear weapons.

This assessment follows the publication of an annual report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for 2018 that said North Korea appeared to continue operating its nuclear production facilities throughout last year, even as it engaged the United States with a promise to denuclearize.

According to the report, uploaded on the IAEA website on Wednesday, the agency increased its monitoring of the North’s nuclear program through a special team built to take on the task in August 2017, which collected data in preparation to “promptly undertake any activities it may be requested to conduct” in the country “once a political agreement has been reached.”

What the team found were signs of regular operations at the Yongbyon Nuclear Power Plant 5 Megawatt reactor until mid-August 2018, followed by indications of “intermittent reactor operation” from mid-August through November. In December there were no signs of activity at the reactor, the report read.

Suggestions of activity were also observed by the team near the nearby Kuryong River, “which may have been related to changes to the cooling system for the light water reaction under construction,” and at the steam plant of the Radiochemical Laboratory at Yongbyon between late April to early May, though the report added the duration of this activity was “not sufficient to have supported the reprocessing of a complete core from the Nuclear Power Plant 5 Megawatt reactor.”

The Yongbyon Nuclear Fuel Rod Fabrication Plant also showed signs of activity at its centrifuge enrichment facility, which the report said may be related to the fabrication of reactor components and their transfer to the reactor building.

A group of buildings within a security perimeter near Pyongyang also showed characteristics that “are not inconsistent with a centrifuge enrichment facility,” a possible reference to a suspected uranium enrichment site at Kangson, just a few kilometers away from the country’s capital.

“The continuation and further development of the DPRK nuclear programme during 2018 […] are clear violations of relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2375 (2017), and are deeply regrettable,” the report said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

A report published earlier this month by the North Korea analysis website 38 North also said there were signs indicating continuing operations at the uranium enrichment plant in Yongbyon.

U.S. officials have made it clear on multiple occasions both this year and last that they have not yet observed activity from Pyongyang consistent with its denuclearization pledge, though the ongoing lull in dialogue since the collapse of the second U.S.-North Korea summit in February gives little incentive for it to do so.

Yet with working level talks expected to resume within weeks, the regime has avoided violating its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile tests.

Those upcoming discussions are likely to focus on the country’s numerous nuclear production facilities but could also address its arsenal of perhaps 20 to 30 nuclear warheads and the amount of fissile material that U.S. organizations like the Arms Control Association say may be enough to produce 30 to 60 more nuclear weapons.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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