South Korea’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, said that parliament intelligence authorities estimated North Korea had between 20 and 60 bombs.
Mr Cho may have unintentionally revealed the information. His ministry later said his comments didn’t mean that South Korea would accept North Korea as a nuclear state, suggesting Seoul’s diplomatic efforts to rid the North of its nuclear programme would continue.
The South Korean official’s words came hours after Seoul said their northern cousins had began removing mines from along their heavily armed border as part of recent steps to reduce tensions.
The effort is expected to only root out a small portion of the 2 million mines that litter the 248km-long, 4km-wide Demilitarised Zone that divides the nations.
Nevertheless, officials hailed the clearing work as “the start of peace” between the two nations, which are still technically at war following the 1950-53 Korean conflict.
South Korean estimates of the North’s arsenal are similar to various civilian estimates, which are largely based on calculations of the amount of nuclear materials the North is believed to have produced.
Stanford University scholars wrote earlier this year that North Korea is estimated to possess from 250 to 500 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, enough for 25 to 30 nuclear devices.
Associated Press contributed to this report
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