Factbox: A look at North Korea’s nuclear arms program

SEOUL (BestGrowthStock) – North Korea is preparing for a third nuclear test that may come in May or June, South Korean broadcaster YTN reported on Tuesday, an act which could complicate already troubled nuclear diplomacy.

The following is a look at destitute North Korea’s decades-long pursuit of nuclear arms:

THE YONGBYON FACILITIES

The Yongbyon complex is at the heart of the North’s plutonium weapons program. 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 and there have been no signs the North has restarted the reactor whose operations have been suspended for about three years.

NUCLEAR CAPABILITIES

U.S. officials said prior to the North’s May 25, 2009 nuclear 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 cooling at Yongbyon, which experts said could provide it with material for one more bomb.

NUCLEAR TESTING

Its first test in October 2006 produced a relatively low yield in its explosive force, indicating problems with the North’s bomb design or plutonium at its core, experts said.

The 2009 test 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 the Japanese city of Nagasaki in 1945 at the end of World War Two.

NUCLEAR WEAPONS

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 has the ability to miniaturize an atomic weapon to place on a missile, but the secretive state has been trying to develop such a warhead. It needs more nuclear testing to build one.

North Korea’s aging fleet of Soviet-era bombers would also have difficulty evading the technologically advanced air forces of regional powers the United States, South Korea and Japan to deliver a nuclear bomb outside the country.

URANIUM ENRICHMENT

North Korea last year said it was enriching uranium, giving it another path for making atomic weapons and confirming long-held U.S. suspicions that Pyongyang had such a program.

Uranium enrichment can be conducted away from the prying eyes of U.S. spy satellites and the North can fuel it with the ample supplies of natural uranium it has in its territory.

Experts said the North is several years away from having a full-scale enrichment program and may never be able to achieve one. It is easier to design a nuclear bomb with highly enriched uranium than plutonium, experts say, but more difficult to make a nuclear warhead with HEU to mount on a missile.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Factbox: A look at North Korea’s nuclear arms program