North Korea may carry out another atomic test next year to bolster the status of leader-in-waiting Kim Jong-Un, a Seoul state think-tank said Friday, a day after the North threatened a nuclear attack.
Tensions remain high on the peninsula a month after the North bombarded a South Korean border island and killed four people including civilians.
The North may stage a third test “to demonstrate Kim Jong-Un’s military prowess, to improve plutonium-based nuclear weapons and ratchet up military tensions”, the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security said.
A new test is needed to improve its plutonium-based bombs using data from the second test in May 2009, the institute, which is affiliated to the foreign ministry, said in a report.
The North has been working for decades to build plutonium-based weapons and last month also disclosed a new uranium enrichment complex — a potential new way to make bombs.
The report said the North is likely to build up its atomic arsenal next year and might test a uranium-based weapon “to maximise the shock to the outside world”.
While six-party nuclear disarmament talks may well resume next year, chances of any progress are slim, it said.
The North is thought to have enough plutonium for maybe six to eight weapons but it is not known whether it can fit them to missile warheads. Nevertheless, it frequently raises the prospect of nuclear war.
On Thursday the North vowed readiness for a “sacred war” using its nuclear weapons.
“The revolutionary armed forces… are getting fully prepared to launch a sacred war of justice of Korean style based on the nuclear deterrent at any time necessary to cope with the enemies’ actions deliberately pushing the situation to the brink of a war,” said armed forces minister Kim Yong-Chun.
An international think-tank urged the two Koreas to accept international arbitration to redraw the flashpoint sea border and lessen the possibility of all-out war.
The International Crisis Group, like many other analysts and the Seoul government, said the North’s attacks are linked to moves to install Jong-Un as eventual successor.
They are an apparent attempt “to give the inexperienced heir some appearance of military and strategic prowess”, the ICG said in a report.