SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected a new, “super explosive’’ hydrogen bomb meant to be loaded into an intercontinental ballistic missile, Pyongyang’s state media said Sunday, a claim to technological mastery that many outside experts will question but that raises the possibility of an imminent nuclear bomb test.
Photos released by the North Korean government showed Kim talking with his lieutenants as he observed a silver, peanut-shaped device that was apparently the purported thermonuclear weapon destined for an ICBM. What appeared to be the nose cone of a missile could also be seen near the alleged bomb in one picture, which could not be independently verified and which was taken without outside journalists present. Another photo showed a diagram on the wall behind Kim of a bomb mounted inside a cone.
Aside from the factuality of the North’s claim, the language in its statement seems a strong signal that Pyongyang will soon conduct its sixth nuclear weapon test, which is crucial if North Korean scientists are to fulfill the national goal of an arsenal of viable nuclear ICBMs that can reach the US mainland. There’s speculation that such a test could come on or around the Sept. 9 anniversary of North Korea’s national founding, something it did last year.
As part of the North’s weapons work, Kim was said by his propaganda mavens to have made a visit to the Nuclear Weapons Institute and inspected a “homemade’’ H-bomb with “super explosive power’’ that “is adjustable from tens (of) kiloton to hundreds (of) kiloton.’’
North Korea in July conducted its first ever ICBM tests, part of a stunning jump in progress for the country’s nuclear and missile program since Kim rose to power following his father’s death in late 2011. The North followed its two tests of Hwasong-14 ICBMs, which, when perfected, could target large parts of the United States, by threatening to launch a salvo of its Hwasong-12 intermediate range missiles toward the US Pacific island territory of Guam in August.
It flew a Hwasong-12 over northern Japan last week, the first such overflight by a missile capable of carrying nukes, in a launch Kim described as a “meaningful prelude’’ to containing Guam, the home of major US military facilities, and more ballistic missile tests targeting the Pacific.
Vipin Narang, an MIT professor specializing in nuclear strategy, said it’s important to note that North Korea was only showing a mockup of a two-stage thermonuclear device, or H-bomb. “We won’t know what they have until they test it, and even then there may be a great deal of uncertainty depending on the yield and seismic signature and any isotopes we can detect after a test,’’ he said.