North Korea is more than likely ready to conduct more nuclear testing. However, they may be waiting to conduct their tests out of fear of angering China.
This is what Siegfried Hecker, the former head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, believes. Hecker was granted an extremely rare opportunity to view a secret uranium enrichment facility in North Korea.
Hecker visited the facility three years ago. Even then, he says, he recalls seeing that researchers there had “everything in place” for a series of nuclear tests, Yahoo! News reports. Three major tests have been conducted in recent years; Hecker believes North Korea has more than enough material to run a fourth test soon.
The last of these tests came in February earlier this year. The action alarmed the United Nations, who has since increased sanctions against the rogue Asian nation.
Each test is crucial to the advancement of North Korea’s nuclear program, which ultimately aims to be weaponized for long-range use — if Kim Jong Un, the nation’s leader, is to be believed, targets would include South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
But to be used in long-range missiles, North Korea’s nuclear program must first continue to advance their nuclear research. Hecker argues this, saying that the nation “needed additional tests in my opinion to miniaturize” their nuclear weapons. This is so that they are small enough to be fitted to a missile. The trick is getting them to still be as destructive, in a smaller package.
Hecker said he was concerned about North Korea and Iran cooperating on their nuclear research. Such a partnership “would be very, very troublesome” as it would speed both nation’s programs.
China, North Korea’s main ally and bank roller, has insisted that the country end its controversial nuclear programs. Though North Korea has defied them before, with three prior nuclear tests, China has increased the pressure.
Hecker says that this may have been successful in forcing a delay in further nuclear testing. Though many are quite skeptical, Kim Jong Un has publicly asked for nuclear talks in recent times.
While this seems like a sudden and drastic change, China may be to thanks. China recently froze banks and funds in North Korea to punish them over their nuclear program.