Seoul (AFP) Oct 6, 2010 North Korea's nuclear programme has reached a "very alarming level" and could cause havoc in South Korea if Pyongyang develops smaller mobile weapons, a senior Seoul presidential aide says. "North Korea's nuclear threat has progressed at a rapid pace and reached a very alarming level, while the nuclear programmes are evolving even now," JoongAng Ilbo newspaper quoted Kim Tae-Hyo as telling a forum Tuesday.
Kim, the president's deputy national security adviser, confirmed the comments to AFP Wednesday.
The aide said Pyongyang was believed to be operating all its nuclear programmes, including the Yongbyon nuclear reactor which produces weapons-grade plutonium, and a separate highly-enriched uranium project to make bombs.
"If the nuclear warheads are made compact and deployed to the field, they could wreak immense havoc on South Korea regardless of their precision level," JoongAng quoted him as saying.
The North closed down Yongbyon in 2007 under a six-nation disarmament deal, but quit the pact in April 2009 and announced it would restart operations at the complex.
In September 2009 it said its experiments with uranium enrichment had reached their final phase.
South Korea's defence minister said this week the North was restoring facilities at Yongbyon.
He was speaking after a private US research institute, citing satellite photos, said new construction or excavation is under way there.
Presidential aide Kim Tae-Hyo also warned of potential dangers from the leadership succession process which has begun in the North.
Kim Jong-Un, youngest son of leader Kim Jong-Il, has been appointed a four-star general and been given powerful party posts.
The untested young protege may be "tempted to launch provocations or other daring moves" to showcase his presence to the world during the power transition, the aide warned.
"It is important to make him aware that making such choices would put inter-Korea relations in irreversibly significant jeopardy."
The North's current plutonium stockpile is estimated to be enough for six to eight bombs. It tested atomic weapons in October 2006 and May 2009.
Its Vice Foreign Minister Pak Kil-Yon told the United Nations last week his country must strengthen its nuclear deterrent in the face of what he called threats from the United States.
The North has indicated willingness in principle to return to the six-party forum chaired by its ally China. But it says it wants separate talks with the United States about signing a permanent peace treaty on the peninsula.
South Korea will next week stage a naval exercise with the United States, Japan and Australia off the southern city of Busan, the defence ministry said.
The drill is part of the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) to intercept shipments of weapons of mass destruction including nuclear arsenals.
The ministry said the October 13-14 exercise would practise how to stop and inspect ships suspected of carrying such weapons.
The North has vehemently criticised the South's decision to join PSI, calling it a "declaration of war".
"The exercise scenario is not targeting a specific country," Yonhap quoted a defence ministry official as saying.