The specter of North Korea armed with nuclear-bomb-tipped missiles is such “a serious threat for the world” that a top U.S. scientist says President Donald Trump should send an envoy to Pyongyang to persuade Kim Jong Un’s regime to end its doomsday posturing.
“I’ve been trying to tell our government that it’s really time that we go talk to them,” former Los Alamos National Laboratory director Siegfried Hecker said Thursday night before speaking about his new book, “Doomed to Cooperate” at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas.
Hecker’s presentation to former colleagues at the Nevada National Security Site was based on his experience in working with Russian counterparts to round up “loose nukes” after the Soviet Union’s breakup in the 1990s.
“The North Koreans today may have somewhere around 20 or 25 nuclear weapons although we really don’t know for sure,” said Hecker, a plutonium expert who visited North Korea seven times from 2003 to 2010 and has been “inside their nuclear complex four times.”
“And based on the nuclear tests — they’ve done five over the last 10 years — we have to assume that they can put those nuclear weapons on at least some of their short and mid-range missiles to reach South Korea and all of Japan.
By some estimates, Kim’s regime has two intercontinental ballistic missiles in development — the KN-08 and KN-14 — that have ranges of about 7,150 miles and 6,200 miles, respectively. That puts them within range of Las Vegas — which is approximately 5,950 miles across the Pacific from Pyongyang — and other West Coast cities.
“Unfortunately, over the past dozen years or so, the North Koreans have come from having the capacity to build the bomb and maybe have a handful to where now they actually have a nuclear arsenal.”
Asked whether he thinks the United States will resume full-scale nuclear weapons tests at the Nevada National Security Site where they were put on hold indefinitely in 1992, he said, “Not any time in the near future. Because if the United States tests then we have a number of other countries who are just waiting there, ready to test. And they need to test even much more than we do.
“So we have to do everything that we can through stockpile stewardship to make sure to keep our weapons safe, secure and reliable (but) nuclear testing is not the first thing that needs to be done.
Although it might be “important … what’s really important also is to make sure the Russians don’t go back to testing, the Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis. If you look at it, we’ve done 1,054 tests. The Chinese have done 45. We don’t want them to go back to nuclear testing.”
He called the India-Pakistan situation “my biggest nuclear headache” because both countries have 100 to 130 nuclear weapons.
Contact Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2