Despite international skepticism about the veracity of North Korea’s efforts to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, North Korea can apparently create much more than it has said it can. During an interview with NBC’s Carl Quintanilla, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who is close to North Korea’s political leadership, said his government is capable of generating up to 98 nuclear weapons. The figure contradicts previous assertions by North Korea that it had turned over all its nuclear stockpiles, including fissile material, to the United Nations. “North Korea has been spinning about 98 missiles and that they are transferring the plutonium from this vehicle,” Richardson said. “And we have an estimate that is considerably higher.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, North Korea already has enough plutonium to fuel up to eight nuclear weapons. The most reliable option for North Korea to generate it is from the country’s half-completed nuclear power plant at Yongbyon. North Korea appears to have separated plutonium from the spent fuel rods inside the reactor, most likely to be used to provide one of the two remaining uranium fuel rods that it needs to build a bomb. As The New York Times’ Andrew Higgins noted in an article published on Wednesday, the world’s ballistic missile experts agree that “it appears that North Korea has ‘all of the fuel needed to put together one or two nuclear weapons’” using plutonium from the spent fuel rods.
“It’s not looking good,” U.S. Senator Bob Corker said during an interview with Politico. “I think a deal is possible, but if the signs are that North Korea is lying about this and covering something up, that is not a good sign.”