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Assessing North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Capabilities: Janes Develops New Methodology

Groundbreaking analysis from Janes assesses the fissile material requirements of thermonuclear weapons likely to be in North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, providing a new way to assess the overall inventory.

LONDON – Janes, the trusted global agency for open-source defence intelligence, has developed a new approach for estimating the possible size and composition of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Using the publicly-known characteristics of thermonuclear weapons, this original methodology estimates the consumption of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in thermonuclear systems to provide new estimates of the size of North Korea’s weapons stockpile.  North Korean thermonuclear secondaries are likely to require about three times more highly enriched uranium than a simple fission weapon.

“There are significant unknowns and variables that factor into this sort of analysis, but we’re offering a transparent methodology that enables new calculations around the size of North Korea’s stockpile.” said Robert Munks, editor of Janes Intelligence Review. “For that reason, we can’t definitively conclude that North Korea has X or Y amount of nuclear weapons, but we do arrive at a specific range of figures if all of North Korea’s HEU were committed to thermonuclear weapons.”

The research – completed for Janes Intelligence Review by former IAEA Director Robert Kelley and Vitaly Fedchenko, both of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – firstly quantifies stocks of fissile material in a country’s military stockpile, then estimates how much of this fissile material might be used in a thermonuclear weapon. A typical open-source process generally relies on an assumption that all available HEU and plutonium stocks are allocated to fission-only or boosted single-stage weapons, while the Janes methodology pays greater attention to the requirements of thermonuclear weapons.

More information about this research is available here.

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