North Korea could end the next five years in possession of anywhere from 14 to almost 50 nuclear weapons, according to a new report from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).
The report, ‘North Korea’s Estimated Stocks of Plutonium and Weapon-Grade Uranium’ by David Albright and Christine Walrond, projects the development of North Korea’s nuclear programs over the next five years. Attempting to analyze the various ways North Korea might employ its declared uranium enrichment facility (and other potential facilities) and under-construction light water reactor at Yongbyon, the report concludes that, in the worst-case scenario, the North could be in possession of up to 48 nuclear weapons by 2016.
ISIS acknowledges that the projections are based on incomplete data due to the opaqueness of the nuclear programs in question. However, they remind readers that “regardless of the accuracy of the estimates, it is critical to take steps that reduce the chances that North Korea will increase the size of its nuclear arsenal… This strategy should include both an attempt to negotiate a solution and increase efforts to detect, thwart, and delay North Korea’s nuclear progress.”
The report goes on to assert that “delaying progress in North Korea’s program hinges on interrupting its successful smuggling networks, many of which have successfully infiltrated Chinese markets to acquire a range of dual-use items necessary for its centrifuge program from both Chinese private companies and high-tech foreign suppliers. Although China has taken measures to bolster its laws and practices, it simply does not do enough to stop smuggling operations put forth by North Korea.”