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Pyongyang's focus not on warhead miniaturization but more power, reliability: expert

All News 14:21 September 28, 2016

SEOUL, Sept. 28 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has already secured the capability of making nuclear warheads small enough to be placed atop its missiles and its focus now seems to be moving toward making such weapons more powerful and reliable, a Chinese nuclear expert said Wednesday.

Li Bin, professor at Tsinghua University known for his expertise in missile and nuclear technologies, also said that South Korea's push to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system on its soil could help Washington "buy time" to track and intercept approaching intercontinental ballistic missiles.

"It seems that (the North) has obtained ways to make a (nuclear) warhead small enough so it can be placed on top of a missile," Li said during a lecture held in Seoul. "The North's biggest objective now is not to make nuclear devices light and small, but guarantee the power and its reliability."

Li said that the North seems to have gained confidence in securing the intended power of nuclear detonation "to some extent" through its fourth nuclear test conducted in January.

He said that the North's technological advance in long-range and submarine-launched missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads has been "much faster" than many expected and that it surely warrants a heightened level of caution.

"We should make it hard for the North to carry out such tests (on long-range missiles) and this might be where we can find chances for cooperation," he said.

With regard to the planned deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in South Korea, Li shared China's concerns, countering the claims that its radar range might not be able to cover its intercontinental ballistic missiles.

"Many experts' analysis is based on the assumption that the radar is directed to detect incoming missiles and warheads. This assumption is a problem," he said, arguing that the rear part of a missile can better reflect the radar, making such a target more detectable.

"Given the geographical nature of South Korea, (THAAD) will be able to track the rear part of a missile launched from China... This would give the United States' missile defense system extra time for interception," he added.

Li proposed South Korea and the United States use a less powerful radar, which would help ease concerns of neighboring countries.

In July, South Korea and the United States announced a plan to place a THAAD battery on the peninsular by end-2017 in a bid to better counter the growing threat from North Korea. China and Russia have objected, saying that it could hurt their strategic security interests.

Meanwhile, the professor expressed worries about a possible nuclear disaster in the North's Yongbyon where a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor is located, citing a lack of sufficient safety measures in place there. He raised the need for Seoul-Beijing cooperation to keep risks in check.

"In case of an accident at the 5-megawatt reactor, it could cause a catastrophe similar to the one that happened in Fukushima," he said. "I hope that China and South Korea form a team to carry out joint research and assessment (on the risk)," he said.

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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