00:20 GMT14 August 2020
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    The US and South Korea kicked off large-scale military exercises on Monday to practice a preventive strike originating from North Korea. Pyongyang responded with a traditional threat of a preventive nuclear attack on the South. Sputnik discussed the matter with Vladimir Khrustalev, an expert in North Korean weapons with Lifeboat Foundation NGO.

    “First of all, the North can’t nuke all its enemies simply because it is unable to build enough nuclear bombs to do this. Pyongyang has two sources of weapons-grade fissionable materials: one is a 35 megawatt reactor at Yongbyon Nuclear Center and a processing plant with an estimated 4,000 centrifuges. Both of them produce just a tiny fraction of what Russia, China and the US now have,” Khrustalev said.

    He added that this pales even in comparison with the “non-weapons” grade plutonium being produced by Pyongyang’s immediate neighbors South Korea and Japan.

    And still, Seoul and Tokyo are increasingly worried by Pyongyang’s nuclear tests. Following the latest series of such tests in January, the leaders of South Korea’s ruling Saenuri party asked President Park Geun-hye to consider turning plutonium from South Korea’s nuclear power plants into a workable bomb.

    In an article published in February 2016, conservative South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo quoted nuclear experts as saying that it could take only 18 months to turn plutonium from the country’s nuclear power plants into a workable bomb.

    According to the authoritative journal the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Japan currently has about 11 tons of plutonium in addition to 37 tons stored abroad. This is enough to build 2,000 nuclear warheads.

    With the construction of its own nuclear processing facility at Rokkasho, Japan will be producing enough plutonium to build 1,500 nuclear warheads a year which is comparable with what the US now has.

    “North Korea apparently possesses nuclear weapons, which can reach both South Korea and Japan, but Pyongyang will not dare to launch an unprovoked attack on America’s allies because this would inevitably invite a retaliatory strike by Washington. Besides, Pyongyang is simply unable to launch a preventive strike on the US,” Vladimir Khrustalev noted.

    No one in North Korea will dare to bomb their neighbors for fear of being destroyed within minutes of such an attempt. Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal now plays the role of a deterrent, just like that of its adversaries.

    And still, an arms race, combined with the growing South Korean and Japanese abilities to put their civilian nuclear programs on a war footing, could have absolutely unpredictable consequences in the event of any dangerous change in the situation in this volatile part of the world.


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