North Korea may get plutonium from restarted reactor in weeks


North Korea, which conducted its fourth nuclear test last month and launched a long-range rocket on Saturday, could begin to recover plutonium from a restarted nuclear reactor within weeks, the director of U.S. National Intelligence said on Tuesday.

James Clapper said that in 2013, following its third nuclear test, North Korea announced its intention to “refurbish and restart” facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, to include the uranium enrichment facility and its graphite-moderated plutonium production reactor shut down in 2007.

“We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the plutonium production reactor,” Clapper said in prepared testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“We further assess that North Korea has been operating the reactor long enough so that it could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor's spent fuel within a matter of weeks to months,” he said in his annual Worldwide Threat Assessment.

North Korea has used its graphite-moderated reactor at Yongbyon as a source of plutonium for its atomic bombs. It tested a fourth nuclear device on Jan. 6.

North Korea said in September that Yongbyon was operating and that it was working to improve the “quality and quantity” of weapons which it could use against the United States at “any time.”

Clapper said North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs would “continue to pose a serious threat to U.S. interests and to the security environment in East Asia in 2016.”

He said North Korea had expanded the size and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces and was also “committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States.”

Clapper said Pyongyang had publicly displayed a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, on multiple occasions, and the U.S. assessment was that it had taken initial steps toward fielding the system, although it had not been flight-tested.

North Korea said that it launched a satellite into space on Saturday with a long-range rocket. The United States and its allies see the launch as cover for Pyongyang's development of ballistic missile technology that could be used to deliver a nuclear weapon.

The launch was strongly condemned by the United States, its allies and the United Nations Security Council.

Russia test-fires ICBM amid tension over Ukraine


Russia said it had successfully test-fired an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) on Tuesday, with tensions running high over its military intervention in Ukraine's Crimea region.

A U.S. official said the United States had received proper notification from Russia ahead of the test and that the initial notification pre-dated the crisis in Crimea. The Russian Defence Ministry could not be reached for comment.

The Strategic Rocket Forces launched an RS-12M Topol missile from the southerly Astrakhan region and the dummy warhead hit its target at a proving ground in Kazakhstan, Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Yegorov told state-run news agency RIA.

The launch site, Kapustin Yar, is near the Volga River about 450 km (280 miles) east of the Ukrainian border. Kazakhstan, a Russian ally in a post-Soviet security grouping, is further to the east.

Russia conducts test launches of its ICBMs fairly frequently and often announces the results, a practice seen as intended to remind the West of Moscow's nuclear might and reassure Russians that President Vladimir Putin will protect them.

Russia and the United States signed the latest of a series of treaties restricting the numbers of ICBMs in 2010, but Moscow has indicated it will agree further cuts in the near future and is taking steps to upgrade its nuclear arsenal.

Putin has emphasised that Russia must maintain a strong nuclear deterrent, in part because of an anti-missile shield the United States is building in Europe which Moscow says could undermine its security.

The Defence Ministry said the test could help Russia improve its capability of foiling anti-missile shields, RIA reported.

Moscow says it is concerned U.S. interceptors could shoot down some of its ICBMs in flight, weakening its arsenal. The United States says the shield is meant to protect against threats from states such as Iran and poses no threat to Russia.

The 20-metre (60-foot) long RS-12M, known in NATO parlance as the SS-25 Sickle, was first put into service in 1985, six years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is designed to carry a nuclear warhead. Its range is 10,500 km (6,000 miles).

Iranian missiles could reach U.S. by 2015, intelligence report says


This story originally appeared on JNS.org.

Iran could develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015, a U.S. intelligence report released on Friday revealed.

The Foreign Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat Assessment, prepared by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, states that since 2008, Iran has conducted multiple successful launches of the two-stage Safir space launch vehicle and has also revealed the larger two-stage Simorgh SLV, which could serve as a test bed for developing ICBM technologies.

Since 2010, Iran has revealed the Qiam-1 SRBM, the fourth generation Fateh-110 SRBM, and claims to be mass-producing anti-ship ballistic missiles. Iran has modified its Shahab 3 medium-range ballistic missile to extend its range and effectiveness and also claims to have deployed the two-stage solid-propellant Sejjil MRBM.

Iranian ballistic missile forces continue to train extensively in highly publicized exercises. These exercises enable Iranian ballistic missile forces to hone wartime operational skills and evolve new tactics. Iran is fielding increased numbers of theater ballistic missiles, improving its existing inventory, and developing the technical capability to produce an ICBM.