By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, June 20 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is "half-way" to becoming a full-fledged nuclear weapons power, as developing a nuclear warhead that can be mounted on long-range missiles is a matter of its choice, a prominent nongovernmental organization said Monday.
In its report on expenditures on nuclear weapons, the group, Global Zero, known for its anti-nuclear movement, put North Korea on a list with the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, India, Pakistan and Israel.
"The 8.5 nuclear weapons countries (North Korea is half-way there) are passing a new milestone this year by collectively spending approximately one hundred billion dollars on their nuclear programs," it said. "This conservatively estimated expenditure represents about 9 percent of their total annual military spending. At this rate the nuclear-armed states will spend, conservatively estimated, at least one trillion dollars on nuclear weapons and their direct support systems over the next decade."
The group, based in London and Washington, said North Korea has produced enough plutonium for up to a dozen fission bombs, apart from a program to enrich uranium.
"It does not yet possess the capability to deliver atomic bombs using long-range missiles, but this is clearly their delivery system of choice and an earnest effort is underway to develop this capability. The core and full cost of this program are estimated at US$500 and $700 million (this year), respectively," it said.
The full cost reaches 8 percent of the North's total military spending, estimated at $8.8 billion, it added.
South Korean and U.S. officials are increasingly concerned about the reclusive nation's long-range missile technology.
"It's been a long time (since North Korea's first nuclear test), so we judge that by this time (the North) could have succeeded in making smaller or miniaturized versions of its nuclear weapons," South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said earlier this month in Seoul.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also warned that North Korea was within five years of being able to strike the continental United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile.
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