North Korea

North Korea has a nuclear program which began after 1970 and was “frozen” in 1994 under the U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework.  This agreement began to break down in late 2002, when North Korea was accused of operating a uranium enrichment program. Since the break down of the program aimed at dismantling the North Korean nuclear infrastructure, the DPRK has conducted what are suspected to be nuclear device tests in 2006 and later in 2009 following its withdrawal from the Six Party Talks as a reaction to the U.N. Security Council resolution condemning DPRK’s long range missile tests. In September 2009 North Korea also claimed to be in the final stages of the development of a uranium enrichment program.

In February 2007, ISIS estimated that North Korea had produced a total plutonium stockpile of between 46 and 64 kilograms, of which 28-50 kilograms could be in separated form and usable in nuclear weapons. This assessment was based on a study of how much plutonium could have been produced in the fuel in the five megawatt-electric reactor and how much plutonium was subsequently separated in the Radiochemical Laboratory.

Suspected Military Stocks of Fissile Material, end of 2003 (in kilograms)1,2
Unirradiated Plutonium15-40
Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)?
Number of Weapons2-9

Learn more by reading the ISIS Reports on North Korea here and by visiting the section on the Verifiable Dismantlement of North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program here.


[Summary Table]


1 From Global Fissile Material Inventories, June 2004.

2 Because of the difficulty of estimating North Korea’s plutonium stock, only a range is provided.  North Korea has separated plutonium during two periods.  It may have separated up to about 10 kilograms of plutonium prior to 1993. North Korea has stated that during the first half of 2003 it separated all the plutonium in a stock of fuel irradiated prior to mid-1994.  Most experts accept that North Korea has separated a significant amount of plutonium from this irradiated fuel, but questions remain about whether North Korea separated all or the bulk of the plutonium in this fuel.  The amount separated from this spent fuel is therefore preliminarily estimated to be between 15 and 30 kilograms of plutonium.  In total, North Korea has an estimated 15-40 kilograms of separated plutonium.  North Korea may have used gas centrifuges to enrich uranium.  Available information suggests that little, if any, HEU has been produced in this program, but a great deal of uncertainty surrounds this issue.