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North Korean Nuclear Arsenal

May 9, 2008
Center for Defense Information

View the information directly on CDI website

Possible Delivery System

Year Deployed

Range (km)

Launcher Total


Warhead Yield (kt)



Hwasong 5

(Scud B)






Scud missiles originally obtained from Egypt.

Hwasong 6

(Scud C)










Conventional explosives; chemical and cluster

No-Dong 1






Test -fired May 1993 

No-Dong B


2,500 – 3,200












Test-launched August 1998, failed in third stage


More than a decade away





Test-launched in July 2006, failed in first stage.

Summary of North Korean Nuclear Forces:

In general, information about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is scarce. However, it is known to have an extensive ballistic missile program and its nuclear warheads are almost certainly plutonium-based. In addition, allegations of a clandestine uranium enrichment program persist. It is estimated that the North Korea possesses a sufficient amount of plutonium for 5-15 nuclear weapons.

North Korea held its first nuclear test on Oct. 9, 2006. Reportedly, North Korea informed China before the test that the weapon’s yield was intended to be around 4 kilotons, but various international seismic analyses indicated the yield was probably under 1 kiloton. News reports at the time focused on how small the yield was in comparison to the Nagasaki bomb, but it appears that North Korea was simply aiming for a smaller weapon in the first place. And indeed, nuclear specialists have concluded that North Korea’s nuclear device was “not perfect, but not bad for a first try.”[1]

It is uncertain how many actual nuclear weapons North Korea possesses. Most estimates conclude that the country has separated up to 50 kilograms of plutonium, enough for about 6 nuclear warheads. However, estimates range from 28-50 kg of plutonium separated, enough for 5-12 nuclear warheads depending on a number of factors. It is also unclear whether additional warheads have been built; in any case, it is unlikely that North Korea has been able to miniaturize them to fit on ballistic missiles. For now, North Korea can probably only deliver any nuclear weapons it possesses using bombers or land vehicles.

Rumors of a clandestine uranium enrichment program persist, but North Korea’s nuclear warheads almost certainly use plutonium produced at the Yongbyon facility, which contains a fuel fabrication facility, a nuclear reactor, and a reprocessing facility. Yongbyon has not produced plutonium since July 15, 2007, in accordance with the Six-Party initial actions agreement of Feb. 13, 2007. That agreement is the first part of a “Denuclarization Action Plan,” a set of steps that will eventually, it is hoped, enable North Korea to verifiably disarm its nuclear weapons program. While the initial steps have not all been completed, Pyongyang recently declared a stockpile of 30 kg of plutonium.

Since the 1970s, North Korea has also had an extensive missile program. The country acquired short-range Scud missiles and launchers from Egypt and in the 1980s established an indigenous missile program, after which it was estimated that the country could produce 8-10 Scuds per month. North Korea has also developed the Nodong medium-range ballistic missile which, with a range of up to 1,480 km, is capable of hitting Japan and U.S. bases in Okinawa. Both of these missiles have been sold internationally; for instance, the Nodong is known as the Ghauri-I in Pakistan and the Shahab-3 in Iran. However, the accuracy of North Korean missiles is very poor, and much of the technology used is becoming dated.

North Korea is also developing two long-range ballistic missiles: the Taepodong-1 and Taepodong-2. The Taepodong-1 is believed to be a two-stage missile that uses a Nodong-derived first stage and a Scud-derived second stage; based on these assumptions, it is believed to have a range of up to 2,500 km. While North Korea probably has ten of these missiles, they do not seem to be deployed yet and the only test of the missile, in 1998, failed spectacularly in the third stage. It did, however, succeed in increasing global concern about North Korea’s missile program. The Taepodong-2 is a longer-range version in a very early stage of development – a flight test in July 2006 failed in the missile’s first stage. Estimates of its range are therefore uncertain, but extend from 3,750 km to 6,700 km. If these are accurate, the Taepodong-2 would be capable of targeting most of the continental United States. However, the accuracy of these missiles would also probably be wildly uncertain.

Strategic Nuclear Weapons: 5-15

Non-strategic Nuclear Weapons: 0

Total Nuclear Weapons: 5-15


“North Korea Pledges to Follow Agreement,” Global Security Newswire, Feb. 15, 2007

Albright, David, and Paul Brannan. “The North Korean Plutonium Stock.” Institute of Science and International Security (ISIS), Feb. 20, 2007, http://www.isis-online.org/publications/dprk/DPRKplutoniumFEB.pdf

Albright, David, Paul Brannan, and Jacqueline Shire. “North Korea’s Plutonium Declaration: A Starting Point for an Initial Verification Process.” Institute for Science and International Security, Jan. 10, 2008, http://www.isis-online.org/publications/dprk/NorthKoreaDeclaration10Jan2008.pdf

Cirincione, Joseph, Miriam Rajkumar and Jon B. Wolfsthal, 2005, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats, 2nd ed., 278-93.

Cody, Edward and Edward Kessler. “U.S. Flexibility Credited in Nuclear Deal N. Korea.” The Washington Post, Feb. 14, 2007.

Garwin, Richard, and Frank von Hippel. “A Technical Analysis of North Korea’s Oct. 9 Nuclear Test,” Arms Control Today, Arms Control Association, November 2006.

Hecker, Siegfried S. “Report on North Korean Nuclear Program,” Center for International and Cooperation, Stanford University, Nov. 15, 2006, http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/dprk/nuke/hecker1106.pdf

Hildreth, Stephen A. “North Korean Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States.” Congressional Research Service, Jan. 24, 2008, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RS21473.pdf

Kristensen, Hans M., and Robert S. Norris. “Global Nuclear Stockpiles 1945-2006,” Nuclear Notebook in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, July/August 2006, http://thebulletin.metapress.com/content/c4120650912x74k7/fulltext.pdf

Nikitin, Mary Beth. “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: Latest Developments,” Congressional Research Service, Dec. 5, 2007, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL34256.pdf

Norimitsu Onishi and David E. Sanger, “6 Missiles Fired By North Korea; Tests Protested,” The New York Times, July 5, 2006.

“North Korea – Denuclearization Action Plan,” Office of the Spokesman, U.S. Department of State, Feb. 13, 2007, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2007/february/80479.htm

Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Missile Overview,” http://www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/NK/index_1667.html (updated August 2006)

Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Hwasong: Overview and Technical Assessment,” http://www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/NK/Missile/1376.html (updated May 2003)

Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Missile Capabilities,” http://www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/NK/Missile/62.html (updated December 2006).

Priest, Dana, and Anthony Faiola, 2006, “North Korea Tests Long-range Missile,” The Washington Post, July 5, 2006.

Vick, Charles P, “Has the No-dong-B/Shahab-4 Finally Been Flight Tested in Iran for North Korea?” Global Security.org, http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/report/2006/cpvick-no-dong-b_2006.htm (accessed March 26, 2007)

[1] Quoted in Siegfried S. Hecker, “Denuclearizing North Korea,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 64, no. 2, pp. 44-49.

Author(s): Brian Ellison

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