A Chinese man looks at photos of North Korea's leaders posted outside the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. North Korea is growing its nuclear arsenal but its next nuclear test could lead to a volcanic eruption, experts say. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- North Korea may be adding seven nuclear bombs to its arsenal annually and could have about 20 bombs by the end of 2016, according to a U.S. analyst.
Siegfried S. Hecker, a nuclear weapons expert at Stanford University who has visited North Korea's nuclear facilities as recently as 2010, states on 38 North, a Johns Hopkins University website dedicated to North Korea, that Pyongyang could add 330 pounds of highly enriched uranium to an existing stockpile of about 660 to 880 pounds.
That amount, 330 pounds, is sufficient to produce six nuclear bombs, according to Hecker.
While North Korea's highly enriched uranium program is growing, the country's capacity to produce plutonium "remains limited" to 13 pounds per year.
North Korea has about 70 to 120 pounds of plutonium that is worth six to eight bombs, the analyst writes, adding plutonium production is easier to track because of "telltale signals."
Hecker also states that while North Korea has claimed it can produce lighter smaller warheads, its "ability to field an [intercontinental ballistic missile] is still a long way off – perhaps 5 to 10 years."
North Korea's universally condemned fifth nuclear test is raising concerns the country could conduct at least another test before the end of 2016.
Jin Xiangdong, a Chinese researcher at Xiamen University, told Sputnik News North Korea could soon launch a sixth nuclear test.
Pyongyang could test another nuclear weapon after the United Nations Security Council passes additional sanctions or during joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises that are to be held in mid-October, Jin said.
A more powerful nuclear test, however, could have unintended consequences, according to earth sciences experts in South Korea.
Data from South Korean scientists submitted to a parliamentary committee on safety administration indicated another man-made earthquake near the Punggye-ri test site could trigger a dormant volcanic mountain, Mount Paektu, local newspaper Maeil Business reported.
Paektu, the official birthplace of former leader Kim Jong Il, is about 75 miles from the nuclear test site. Another earthquake with a 3.0-7.0 magnitude could trigger a volcanic eruption, according to the analysis.