Kim Jong-un unveils new nuclear warheads that can strike neighbours for first time
North Korea has for the first time unveiled smaller nuclear warheads which it claims are capable of striking its neighbours.
Photos showing Kim Jong Un inspecting the new, smaller nuclear warheads during a visit to the Nuclear Weapons Institute were released on Tuesday.
He used the visit to call for the use of the weapons of mass destruction “anytime and anywhere.”
North Korea has long claimed to possess tactical nuclear weapons which could be used to strike neighbouring South Korea. The new photos of the warheads, and their capabilities remain unverified.
Kim has called for the production of weapons-grade nuclear material to be scaled up to achieve an “exponential increase in the nuclear arsenal” of the isolated regime, the official KCNA newswire reported.
Experts have warned the reports could indicate progress in miniaturising warheads that are powerful yet small enough to mount on short-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting the United States.
"It has something more powerful in a smaller space. ... That's worrisome," Kune Y.Suh, professor emeritus of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University, told Reuters.
The revelation of the warheads, dubbed Hwasan-31, follows an array of weapons tests over the past week as Pyongyang continues to lash out over extensive joint military drills by US and South Korean forces.
The nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft carrier is set to arrive in the southeastern port of Busan on Tuesday after its strike group trained with the South Korean Navy in international waters near the island of Jeju on Monday.
Both allies maintain their drills are defensive in nature, but Pyongyang has repeatedly accused them of conducting a rehearsal for war.
On Tuesday, KCNA also reported a simulation of a “nuclear air explosion” by two ground-to-ground tactical ballistic missiles some 500 metres above the ground and said it had continued with tests of the “Haeil-1” underwater nuclear attack drone, which had travelled 372 miles over 41 hours and 27 minutes.
Reports about the nuclear-capable Haeil unmanned underwater vehicle, which first emerged last week, appear to have similarities with Russian claims about the creation of the submarine-launched Poseidon nuclear torpedo, say weapons experts.
However, analysts have urged caution about the veracity of such assertions, citing a lack of proof and lack of details about its operability.
South Korea’s military on Monday said the North’s state media reports about the weapon’s capability to generate a “radioactive tsunami” were “exaggerated and manipulated”.
But there is rising concern about the overall nuclear threat posed by North Korea.
Last week, Lee Jong-sup, the South Korean defence minister, confirmed to the national parliament that four cruise missiles had been fired on Wednesday, acknowledging that Pyongyang had made “considerable” progress towards its goal of mounting miniature nuclear warheads onto tactical weapons.