North Korean nuclear capabilities, 2018

By Hans M. Kristensen, Robert S. Norris | January 2, 2018

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Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear weapons does North Korea have?

North 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 a couple hundred kilotons – and test-flown a variety of new ballistic missiles that potentially put the United States and Europe in range. A central question about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is whether it has managed to develop fully functioning nuclear warheads that can be delivered with a ballistic missile and, following a violent atmospheric re-entry, detonate as planned.

Agencies and officials of the US intelligence community, as well as military commanders and nongovernmental experts, are struggling to assess the characteristics and capabilities of the North Korean nuclear program. Based on available information, we cautiously estimate that North Korea might have produced sufficient fissile material to build 30 to 60 nuclear weapons, and that it might possibly have assembled 10 to 20 warheads. It is possible that North Korea has operational nuclear warheads for shorter-range missiles such as the Nodong. At the ranges required for intercontinental ballistic missiles, however, we have not yet seen evidence that North Korea can successfully deploy a re-entry vehicle to deliver an operational nuclear warhead…

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The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists and Robert S. Norris, a senior fellow with the FAS. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987.


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