North Korea upgrades atomic fuel plants

A day after threatening long-range rocket launches, North Korea declared it has upgraded and restarted all of its atomic fuel plants so it can produce more sophisticated nuclear weapons.

Neither announcement was entirely unexpected, and analysts see the back-to-back warnings as part of a general North Korean playbook of using claimed improvements in its nuclear and missile programs to push for talks with the US that could eventually provide the impoverished country with concessions and eased sanctions.

The threats could deepen a standoff between North Korea and the US and its allies because they strike at Washington’s fear that each North Korean rocket and nuclear test puts it another big step closer to nuclear-tipped long-range missiles that can hit the US mainland.

North Korea has spent decades trying to develop just such a weapon, and while it is thought to have a small arsenal of atomic bombs and an impressive array of short- and medium-range missiles, it has yet to show it can produce nuclear bombs small enough to place on a missile or that can make reliable long-range missiles.

It said yesterday its scientists had improved “the levels of nuclear weapons with various missions in quality and quantity”.


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