Intelligence chief James Clapper: North Korea ready to start plutonium production

The U.S. director of national intelligence said North Korea’s nuclear capabilities should not be underestimated.
By Elizabeth Shim  |  Feb. 26, 2016 at 10:00 AM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. director of national intelligence said it's only a matter of weeks or months until North Korea recovers plutonium from its nuclear facilities.

Speaking before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, James Clapper said in addition to plans to extract plutonium, North Korea exports ballistic missiles and related materials to countries like Iran and Syria.

But the North's claims of a "successful" hydrogen bomb test don't quite measure up to certain requirements. The low yield of the test is not consistent with a successful test of a thermonuclear device, Clapper said Thursday.

Other government agencies, including South Korea's National Intelligence Service, have previously stated that it's unlikely the North's test involved a hydrogen bomb, South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported. Some U.S. and South Korean experts have said that the test most likely involved an enhanced nuclear fission device.

Despite what many regard as Pyongyang's exaggerated claims, Clapper said North Korea's nuclear capabilities should not be underestimated.

North Korea has increased the size and sophistication of its arsenal of ballistic missiles that range from close-range rockets to intercontinental ballistic missiles.

At Yongbyon, North Korea's uranium enrichment facility, North Korea plans to restart a plutonium production reactor that was closed in 2007, Clapper said.

The reactor is already in operation, and plutonium could be recovered in a matter of weeks, he said.

The Japanese government issued a similar report in February and has said Pyongyang could also be capable of miniaturizing nuclear warheads.

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