SEOUL (Reuters) - Secretive North Korea detailed for the first time its expanded nuclear programme on Tuesday, saying it had thousands of centrifuges as pressure built on China to rein in its ally amid heightened tensions on the peninsula.
Nuclear-armed Pyongyang’s revelations about its uranium enrichment, which gives it a second route to make a nuclear bomb, came a week after it fired a barrage of artillery shells at a South Korean island, killing four people including two civilians.
Following is a look at the North’s nuclear arms programme:
THE YONGBYON FACILITIES
The Yongbyon complex is at the heart of the North’s plutonium weapons programme. It consists of a five-megawatt reactor, whose construction began in 1980, a fuel fabrication facility and a plutonium reprocessing plant, where weapons-grade material is extracted from spent fuel rods.
The site, about 100 km (60 miles) north of Pyongyang, also contains a 50-megawatt reactor whose construction was suspended under a 1994 nuclear deal with the United States. The reactor is nowhere near completion.
When fully operational, Yongbyon can produce enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb a year, experts say. Yongbyon was being taken apart under a disarmament-for-aid deal, but last year, in the face of U.S. hostility, the North said it was restoring parts of the plant. Satellite images taken in September showed increased activity at the complex.
The North’s first test in October 2006 produced a relatively low yield in its explosive force, indicating problems with the bomb design or plutonium at its core, experts said.
A second test, in 2009, was stronger, but experts believe it may have only been about one-fifth to one-fourth as powerful as the plutonium bomb the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.
U.S. officials said prior to the North’s 2009 test it had produced about 50 kg (110 lb) of plutonium, which proliferation experts said would be enough for six to eight nuclear weapons.
The North has since said it extracted more fissile material from spent fuel rods. This could be enough for one more bomb.
Even though it has exploded nuclear devices, North Korea has not shown it has a working nuclear bomb.
Experts say they do not believe the North can miniaturise an atomic weapon to place on a missile, but it is trying to develop such a warhead. It needs more nuclear testing to build one.
North Korea’s ageing fleet of Soviet-era bombers would also have difficulty evading the advanced air forces of regional powers to deliver a nuclear bomb outside the country.
North Korea last year said it was enriching uranium, giving it another path for making atomic weapons. Uranium enrichment can be conducted away from the prying eyes of satellites and the North can fuel it with its ample supplies of natural uranium.
“Currently construction of a light-water reactor is in progress actively and a modern uranium enrichment plant equipped with several thousands of centrifuges, to secure the supply of fuels, is operating,” the Rodong Sinmun newspaper said on Tuesday.
It is easier to design a nuclear bomb with highly enriched uranium (HEU) than plutonium, but harder to make a nuclear warhead with HEU to mount on a missile.
Reporting by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Nick Macfie
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