3 Reasons N. Korea Can’t Nuke the U.S. (Yet)

Thursday, North Korea stated explicitly that in addition to planning a third nuclear test, it would also be “targeting” the United States with its nuclear program.

But although the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has rockets and an active nuclear program, threats of a nuclear attack may be bluster, according to some experts – at least for now.

Hans Kristensen, director of nuclear information at the Federation of American Scientists, told Discovery News. “They’ve built some devices that can go off,” he said. “That’s not the same as a bomb.”

There are three parts to making a nuclear weapon, he said. First is the fissile material — uranium and plutonium. The second is the ability to get a bomb onto a plane or missile. Last is designing a missile that will reach targets as far away as the continental United States. North Korea has the first, has not shown it has the second and is part way towards the third.

North Korea showed it had the fissile material when it set off two test explosions, one in 2006 and one in 2009. Most experts consider the first a failure, given that it was only the equivalent of 1,000 tons of TNT, or one kiloton. The 2009 explosion was more successful, estimated at several kilotons — still a fraction the power of the bomb used on Hiroshima.

Setting off a nuclear explosion is one thing, but building a warhead small and light enough to fit in a plane or on top of a missile is another. For comparison, it took the United States several years to develop warheads that could fit on a rocket. “The first hydrogen bomb we dropped on test sites in the Pacific was the size of a small house,” said Kristensen. That was in the 1952. A missile capable of sending a bomb to the USSR wouldn’t debut until 1959.

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