North Korea's next nuclear test could enable it to use a smaller, more sophisticated bomb mounted on a long-range ballistic missile to strike the U.S. mainland, Japanese government sources said.
Pyongyang will likely experiment with a fusion-boosted fission bomb in a "high-level" nuclear test it said would target the United States, according to the sources.
A fusion-boosted fission bomb induces nuclear fusion with slight nuclear fission, enabling more efficient nuclear fission. A fusion-boosted fission bomb can therefore be made about one-fourth the size of an ordinary nuclear bomb.
Either uranium or plutonium can be used to develop the bomb.
North Korea said Jan. 24 it will carry out a third nuclear test in opposition to a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the launch of a long-range ballistic missile--that Pyongyang claimed to be a satellite--in December.
In a statement, the country's National Defense Commission said the "high-level" nuclear test, as well as the long-range rockets North Korea plans to fire, will be targeted at the United States, which it declares its enemy.
The Japanese government has concluded that North Korea is ready to test a fusion-boosted fission bomb, and sources said Pyongyang will be able to put it to practical use after a single test.
Japan has been monitoring North Korea's nuclear development program with the United States and other countries. It has analyzed nuclear-related materials North Korea has imported and nuclear-related facilities it has constructed or developed.
While North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006 resulted in an explosion equivalent to less than 1 kiloton of trinitrotoluene (TNT), the second test in 2009 generated an explosion of several kilotons.
In May 2010, North Korea also announced it had succeeded in achieving nuclear fusion.
According to Akihiro Kuroki, a managing director at the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, a fusion-boosted fission bomb uses substantially smaller amounts of explosives and buffer materials than an ordinary nuclear bomb.
North Korea is believed to possess an atomic bomb similar to the one dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, which weighed about five tons.
A successful test of a fusion-boosted fission bomb is expected to enable the reclusive communist country to reduce it to a little more than 1 ton.
North Korea is also developing an improved version of the Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile, which will be able to carry a nuclear bomb of between 800 kilograms and 1 ton.
North Korea is believed to have studied other countries' development of fusion-boosted fission bombs.
The United States first succeeded in testing an ordinary nuclear bomb in 1945 and is said to have developed a fusion-boosted fission bomb in 1956.
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