North Korea’s nuclear capability has been the topic of much speculation in recent years and has led to widespread international condemnation. The country remains under long-standing UN economic sanctions as a result of Pyongyang’s unwillingness to negotiate regarding its nuclear programme and its leader, Kim Jong-Un’s bellicose rhetoric. The most recent nuclear test, conducted in January 2016, has compounded long-held fears that the country may be closer to developing long-range missile technology, which would increasingly compromise the United States and threaten South Korea’s position in the region.
Although little is known about the programme due to its clandestine nature, the latest test has revealed key indicators as to the level of sophistication of North Korea’s uranium enrichment endeavour. North Korea claims to have conducted at least four tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2016. While the first three tests encompassed atomic energy, 2016’s assessment was characterised by the use of hydrogen power. This is significant, as hydrogen bombs merge atoms, which has the potential to release significantly more energy. Additionally, Pyongyang launched a long-range missile test in early February under the guise of a space research programme, which opponents allege was part of a ballistic missile test. The main nuclear facility, located in Yongbyon, was surreptitiously restarted following the collapse of numerous deals with the west, most notably the US and South Korea, regarding the termination of the country’s nuclear programme in return for economic aid and political concessions.
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