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U.S. commander: North Korea has capacity to miniaturize nuclear warheads

North Korea has the capacity to miniaturize nuclear warheads that could then be installed on an intercontinental ballistic missile, according to Adm. Bill Gortney.

By Elizabeth Shim
U.S. commander: North Korea has capacity to miniaturize nuclear warheads
Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, shown here in 2011, said Thursday North Korea has the capacity to miniaturize nuclear warheads that could then be installed on an intercontinental ballistic missile. File Photo by Jerry Morrison/DOD | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- North Korea has the capacity to miniaturize nuclear warheads, send long-range ballistic missiles to the United States and has sufficient plutonium to create 22 nuclear weapons.

Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said Wednesday that North Korea's nuclear missiles are capable of hitting the continental United States, but added the U.S. military can intercept a North Korean missile.

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Speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., Gortney said he agrees with U.S. intelligence claims that North Korea has the capacity to miniaturize nuclear warheads that could then be installed on an intercontinental ballistic missile.

"We're ready for [Kim Jong Un], and we're ready 24 hours a day if he should be dumb enough to shoot something at us," Gortney said.

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Gortney said the military has been investing in updating the current missile defense system, but also securing cost-effective missile deterrence, including new sensors and radars.

Gortney's remarks come three months after Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said North Korea possesses nuclear ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, Voice of America reported.

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North Korea's nuclear arsenal continues to grow, even as the isolated country has come under attack from the international community for its weapons program. The Institute for Science and International Security issued a report Wednesday stating Pyongyang now has enough nuclear material to build 22 nuclear weapons, and more specifically, between 66 and 88 pounds of separated plutonium in late 2014.

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The report said activities captured in commercial satellite imagery at the Yongbyon nuclear site indicated spent fuel has been removed for chemical processing, and the fuel could have been used for nuclear tests. North Korea could produce weapons from plutonium or weapons-grade uranium, the report said, and could make a median of 22 nuclear weapons, but more information is needed on the size of North Korea's centrifuge program.

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