North Korea has 50 kg of weapons-grade plutonium, says Seoul

Kim Jong-un smiles as he visits Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County, North Pyongan province for the testing of a new engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in this undated photo released April 9, 2016.

Pyongyang is thought to be planning a nuclear push in 2017 to develop a weapons system that would be capable of hitting the United States mainland.

The top USA military officer, Marine General Joseph Dunford, who will stay in his role as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concurred with Mr Carter at the event but did not enter into specifics.

Combined with 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of weapons-grade plutonium - a 10-kg increase in two years - the North appears to be enhancing its threat to stated enemies as far away as the United States, despite U.S. President-elect Donald Trump recently brushing aside such concerns.

The ministry also said that the North's highly-enriched uranium (HEU) program also made significant advancements.

North Korea deactivated the Yongbyon reactor in 2007 under an aid-for-disarmament deal.

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Analysts are split on how close North Korea is to achieving its nuclear goals, but all agree that it has made large strides since Kim took over as leader after his father Kim Jong Il died in December 2011.

In response to any such theoretical action, the USA promises shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile "if it were coming towards our territory or the territory of our friends and allies", Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said Sunday.

On the other hand, USA think tank Institute for Science and International Security estimated in June that the North's total nuclear arsenal was more than 21 bombs, up from 10-16 in 2014, based on estimates of plutonium and uranium.

The North has boosted plutonium supplies by reactivating its once-mothballed nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, the defense ministry said. Trump said in a January 2 Tweet: "It won't happen!"

In addition to the nuclear and missile threats, the Defense Ministry listed North Korean cyber and terror attack capabilities for the first time in the report.

  • Adam Floyd