Like many secret nuclear weapons programs, the DPRK goes to great lengths to hide its capabilities to produce nuclear explosive materials and nuclear weapons. Despite these actions, a picture can be drawn of North Korea’s current and projected plutonium and weapons-grade uranium (WGU) stocks. Knowing these plutonium and WGU stocks can, in turn, allow an estimate of the DPRK’s current number of nuclear weapons and a range of projections of the number North Korea could build in the next several years. Although great uncertainty surrounds these projections, as well as the quality of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, these projections form a reasonable picture of the DPRK’s possible nuclear weapons futures, absent actions to significantly limit its nuclear programs.
After summarizing estimates of stocks of separated plutonium and weapons-grade uranium as of the end of 2014, this report develops three projections of future nuclear arsenals through 2020: low-end, medium, and high-end nuclear futures. In developing these projections, which are intended to bound North Korea’s nuclear futures, a number of constraints are considered, including the number and size of nuclear production facilities, future underground testing, the extent and success of nuclear weaponization efforts, costs, and access to necessary goods and classified and proprietary technologies abroad.
Download the report “Future Directions in the DPRK’s Nuclear Weapons Program: Three Scenarios for 2020,” by David Albright, founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security.
Learn more about the North Korea’s Nuclear Futures Project.
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The views expressed in this publication are of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the US-Korea Institute at SAIS.
This publication results from research supported by the Naval Postgraduate School’s Project on Advanced Systems and Concepts for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (PASCC) via Assistance Grant/Agreement No. N00244-14-1-0024 awarded by the NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center San Diego (NAVSUP FLC San Diego). The views expressed in written materials or publications, and/or made by speakers, moderators, and presenters, do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Naval Postgraduate School nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the US Government.
TThis North Korea’s Nuclear Futures Series was also made possible by support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The US-Korea Institute (USKI) at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, works to increase information and understanding of Korea and Korean affairs. USKI’s efforts combine innovative research with a repertoire of outreach activities and events that encourage the broadest possible debate and dialogue on the Korean peninsula among scholars, policymakers, students, NGO and business leaders, and the general public. USKI also sponsors the Korea Studies Program at SAIS, a growing policy studies program preparing the next generation of leaders in the field of Korean affairs. For more information, visit www.uskoreainstitute.org.