SEOUL (AFP) – Leader Kim Jong-un called for North Korea to expand production of “weapon-grade nuclear materials”, state media said yesterday, as Pyongyang unveiled what appeared to be a new, smaller tactical nuclear warhead.
Kim was shown in state media images surrounded by uniformed generals inspecting a row of compact green warheads identified as the “Hwasan-31”, which means volcano in Korean.
The North has long sought the technology to “miniaturise” a nuclear warhead allowing it to be mounted on its intercontinental ballistic missiles to threaten the United States (US). Diagrams on the walls in the photos indicate this could be possible with the Hwasan-31.
Kim was briefed by officials from the North Korean nuclear weapons institute, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported. He called on them to expand “the production of weapon-grade nuclear materials” for an “exponential” increase in the North’s arsenal.
Kim also “put spurs to continuing to produce powerful nuclear weapons” that he said would strike fear into the North’s enemies, KCNA said. Experts warned the unveiling of a potential tactical nuclear weapon did indeed show key signs of technical progress, and could indicate an imminent nuclear test.
It came as a US Navy carrier strike group arrived in South Korea yesterday. Relations between the two Koreas are at one of their lowest points in years, with Seoul and Washington ramping up joint military drills as North Korea conducts ever more provocative weapons tests while blaming the South for the deteriorating security situation.