Despite ongoing international scrutiny and sanctions, North Korea now possesses 50 kilograms of plutonium.
That's the assessment laid out by South Korea's defense ministry in its latest defense white paper, released Wednesday.
"We believe North Korea's plutonium stockpile has increased by 10 kilograms to 50 kilograms, since it restarted its five-megawatt nuclear reactor in Yongbyon ."
It takes 4 to 6 kilograms of plutonium to make one nuclear warhead, which means that the regime could now make up to 10.
According to a report by Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency quoting military sources affiliated with the white paper, North Korea has also made significant strides in its highly enriched uranium program.
"South Korea has sufficient reason to believe North Korea has made significant improvements in its nuclear and ballistic missile capability. Not only does the regime have 50 kilograms of plutonium, but with its uranium enrichment program, the regime can make its nuclear warheads even smaller. These can be mounted on various ballistic missiles, which poses a huge threat."
What is also noteworthy about this year's report is that South Korea appears to have changed its stance regarding its military alliance and cooperation with China.
The defense ministry says it will strive to simply "maintain" the alliance, whereas in its report from two years ago it had promised to strengthen the relationship.
"This delicate change in expression reflects how South Korea is in a precarious diplomatic situation. South Korea has promised to contain North Korea's nuclear threat alongside the U.S., but at the same time, it must be sure not to aggravate its relations with China by deploying THAAD."
The defense ministry has generally emphasized that its defense white paper should be viewed primarily as its own way of objectively assessing and documenting its past achievements and shortcomings in military policy.
Kim Jung-soo, Arirang News.