SEOUL, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- North Korea may have poured $1.5 billion into nuclear weapons development and an additional $1.7 billion into missiles, or more than $3 billion – equivalent to the cost of three years' worth of food for North Korea's population of nearly 25 million.
Seoul military and intelligence officials stated estimates of costs from various international and South Korea experts indicated North Korea's 2013 nuclear test, its third since 2006, placed the cost of nuclear weapons development between $1.1 billion and $1.5 billion.
In terms of grain prices, the cost of development is equal to 4.5 million tons of Chinese corn that could feed about 23 million North Koreans for a year and 10 months, South Korean newspaper Hankook Ilbo reported Thursday.
North Korea could be facing a serious food shortage this year because of a recent drought.
A significant portion of North Korea's weapons investment would have gone toward the construction and expansion of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, including a 5-megawatt reactor, a 100-megawatt light-water reactor, a uranium-enrichment plant – costing Pyongyang $600 million to $700 million, according to South Korea estimates.
North Korea's centrifuge facility, designed to produce highly enriched uranium, could have cost between $200 million and $400 million. The nuclear tests could have cost between $160 million and $230 million.
The costs for the most recent North Korea nuclear test claim, however, are yet to be determined. Experts said that if more sophisticated technology were involved, the costs could be far higher than the 2013 test.
Lee Chun-geun, a senior research fellow at South Korea's Science and Technology Policy Institute, said nuclear weapons development and manufacturing becomes more complex as production shifts from basic nuclear bombs to a hydrogen bomb. That means the most recent test could have easily surpassed $1.5 billion.
North Korea already is under multiple U.N. and U.S. sanctions, but Pyongyang managed to import $2.09 billion worth of luxury merchandise into the country despite the ban, Yonhap reported Thursday.
North Korea continues to purchase the goods, including jewelry, gemstones, carpets, yachts and luxury cars, from China, Europe and Southeast Asia, said South Korean lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun.
"No strong sanction can stop North Korea's series of nuclear provocations," Yoon said.