US scientist: N. Korea has fuel for up to 9 nukes

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November 15, 2006 20:26
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An American nuclear scientist who toured North Korea this month said Wednesday he believes the North has enough fuel for as many as nine nuclear weapons and the capacity to make about one bomb's worth of fuel a year. Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory who met with chief North Korean nuclear scientists during his Oct. 31-Nov. 4 visit, said that while he learned no technical details about the North's Oct. 9 nuclear test, officials indicated the test was "fully successful." He said he and the small group of former US officials who made the trip noticed a palpable sense of national pride about the test among the North Koreans they met. Hecker, who based his observations on meetings with the director of the North's five-megawatt Yongbyon nuclear facility and with nuclear specialists in China, said the North Korean nuclear test was most likely "at least partially successful," but the country probably was "still a long way from having a missile-capable nuclear design." Shortly after the test, US officials confirmed that North Korea had tested a nuclear device, noting an explosion smaller than a kiloton, or the force produced by 1,000 tons (907 metric tons) of TNT. That was smaller than many experts had expected. US intelligence also concluded that the North Korean device probably used plutonium, as opposed to uranium. Hecker said the Yongbyon director told him the test was a plutonium bomb.

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