North Korea has 80 to 90 nuclear weapons and is looking to build a stockpile of up to 300, a state-run South Korean think tank said in a new report. File Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE
SEOUL, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- North Korea has 80 to 90 nuclear weapons and is targeting a stockpile of 300, according to a new analysis by a South Korean state-run think tank.
In a report issued Thursday, the Seoul-based Korea Institute for Defense Analysis estimated that North Korea has produced 4,506 pounds of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium at its Yongbyon nuclear facility. It also possesses a plutonium reserve of between 150 and 172 pounds.
The combined amount of fissile material would yield between 80 and 90 warheads, the report said. If production capacity continues at current levels, Pyongyang could have up to 166 nuclear weapons by 2030.
The regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is aiming to grow its overall stockpile to 300 warheads, the KIDA report predicted.
At a year-end meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, Kim called for "an exponential increase" of the country's nuclear arsenal in order to face off against the "hostile military moves" of the United States and South Korea.
He also ordered the mass production of lower-yield tactical nuclear weapons, which are designed to be used on the battlefield.
Officials in Seoul and Washington have assessed that the North has completed preparations for a nuclear weapon test, which would be its seventh overall and first since 2017.
The secretive state fired missiles at a record-setting pace last year, including the November launch of the Hwasong-17, a liquid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile potentially capable of reaching anywhere in the United States.
North Korea also tested a solid-fuel rocket engine in December, which analysts believe is aimed at developing a solid-propellant ICBM that would be more maneuverable and quicker to launch.
In response to the growing threat posed by the North, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said for the first time on Wednesday that Seoul may build its own nuclear weapons or ask Washington to redeploy them on the Korean Peninsula.
"Now that the problem has become more serious, we may deploy tactical nuclear weapons here in Korea or possess our own nuclear weapons," Yoon said at a joint briefing with the foreign affairs and defense ministries. "If that happens, it won't take a long time for us to have one, given our scientific and technological capabilities."
He was quick to add, however, that South Korea was still focusing on more "realistically possible" solutions by continuing to strengthen its security alliance with the United States.