Analysis: What is the real threat of North Korea's nuclear programme?

WHAT IS NORTH KOREA'S NUCLEAR WEAPONS CAPABILITY?

North Korea is thought to have produced enough plutonium for about six to eight weapons and has already produced one rudimentary nuclear device. It likely cannot miniaturise a nuclear weapon to mount on a missile and would need a significant amount of testing to master the technology, weapons experts say. And its Soviet-era bombers would not be able to evade the advanced air forces of the United States, Japan and South Korea to deliver a bomb, which means it may be many years before North Korea can actually threaten the world with a nuclear weapon.

HOW BIG IS THE SECURITY THREAT?

The North's nuclear arms programme is not a major security threat at present because it has not yet shown it can build an effective bomb, nor does it have an effective delivery system.

Results that show the explosive force of the current test should be known in the next few days, which will indicate if the country has improved its nuclear weapons technology.

The biggest security threats posed by the North come from its hundreds of mid-range missiles, which can hit all of South Korea and most of Japan, as well as its artillery batteries posted close to its border with the South. Jane's Defence estimated the North could rain 500,000 shells an hour into the Seoul area, which is home to about half of South Korea's 49 million people.

A North Korean first strike with artillery and rockets, which may also carry biological weapons or material to spread radiation poisoning, would cause major damage to economic powers South Korea and Japan, which in turn would deal a heavy blow to the global economy. It would also be a suicidal move, because the U.S.-led counter-strike would quickly destroy North Korea.

WHAT ARE NORTH KOREA'S NUCLEAR FACILITIES?

The heart of the North's nuclear arms programme is the Yongbyon nuclear plant, located about 100 km (60 miles) north of the capital Pyongyang. Its key facilities are a plant that makes nuclear fuel, an antiquated reactor that burns the fuel and a plant that separates plutonium from spent fuel. It has various clandestine facilities where it works on weapons designs and uranium enrichment, intelligence sources said.

WILL DIPLOMACY WORK TO END THE NORTH'S NUCLEAR PROGRAMME?

North Korea for years has used its military threat to squeeze concessions from global powers and experts doubt it will give up its biggest card while leader Kim Jong-il is in charge. For Kim, only nuclear weapons can give his small state real standing in the world. They also underpin his military-first policy in the face of what Pyongyang says is the threat of a U.S. invasion.

HOW BIG OF A THREAT IS PROLIFERATION?

The proliferation threat is real. The United States, under former President George W. Bush, suspected the North aided Syria in developing a nuclear programme.

Even though the North's nuclear arms programme is based on what experts consider outdated technology, cash-strapped North Korea has mastered the nuclear fuel cycle and could sell its nuclear expertise to states aiming to make plutonium for weapons.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam