Observers suggest evidence to confirm operations at the nuclear reactor facility could be running at a “considerable” pace.

www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

During a time of uneasy tensions surrounding the Trump Presidency and major geo-political developments, the report that North Korea is capable of restarting this production rises fears in many. Despite this, President Trump claimed earlier this month that a nuclear strike from North Korea “won’t happen!”

North Korea has gone on record claiming they have the capability to “miniaturize” a nuclear warhead, as well as the capability of making a nuclear missile possible. However, this has not been independently confirmed and leaves suspicion over the true capability of North Korea’s nuclear program.

North Korea has conducted several nuclear tests in the past, particularly in September 2016, when the test presented a device with an explosive yield estimating between 10 and 30 kilotons. If confirmed, this would make it the North’s strongest nuclear test ever.

Map showing the locations and the magnitude of the seismic events triggered by North Korea's nuclear tests

Scepticism over Kim Jong-un’s Claims

However, the restarting of this plant for weapons-grade plutonium does not actually contribute to their capability of miniaturizing and arming a small nuclear warhead. North Korea has been stockpiling nuclear resources for a considerable duration, but what good are they if they cannot by utilized?

During a nuclear test in March 2016, Kim announced that North Korean scientists were capable of creating what had long been feared: a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a normal warhead. Furthermore, Kim claimed this allowed them to make indiscriminate attacks across the US and South Korea. Analysts refuted this as an impossible claim.

North Korea’s first nuclear test in October 2o06 resulted in the country’s “joining the nuclear club” after a test exploding plutonium underground. However, North Korea claimed that its weapon would contribute to peace and stability within the Korean peninsula. This contradicts the supposed nuclear threats posed by Kim Jong-un, and further supports skepticism towards North Korea’s true nuclear capability.

Trump’s unpredictable attitude leads analysts to be baffled as to what his response will be to this supposed threat. While military intervention is on the table for Trump, experts claim that the issue’s complexities could very well lead him to the same playbook governed by administrations before him.

Reasons for concern?

Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford University professor who has travelled to North Korea, formerly directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb. He estimates North Korea already has enough plutonium and highly enriched uranium to build 20 to 25 nuclear weapons.

“The nuclear program has continued to expand dramatically in the past few years – more nuclear materials, more nuclear weapons, and more sophisticated nuclear weapons. All of these are in the hands of a young leader about whom we know very little and a military about which we know even less. That is the real risk – it is here today.”

The genuine concern over North Korea’s possession of nuclear resources is certainly valid, but skeptics continue to question North Korea’s capability to arm the warhead.

Trump’s “America First” attitude could very well create a more tense atmosphere on the geo-political playing field in regards to North Korea. As far as analysts claim, their capability to currently arm a small nuclear warhead is still out of their reach. Is Kim Jong-un still scaring the West with empty threats and loaded statements?