WASHINGTON (CBSMiami) – President Donald Trump has said in the past that taking nuclear weapons out of North Korea could happen very quickly.
After a historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he acknowledged it could take a long time.
Experts believe North Korea has enough material for up to 30 nuclear weapons. Additionally, there up to 100 sites spread throughout the country that inspectors want to access, including Yongbyon – the nation’s sprawling atomic complex about 50 miles from Pyongyang. The site covers nearly three square miles containing hundreds of buildings.
“The number one thing that US officials would want is to physically inspect a warhead,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
Hanham is an expert on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. She says warheads would reveal valuable information about the design and advancement of North Korea’s program. The US wants every nuclear weapon destroyed and the parts shipped to a lab in Tennessee. That process alone could take up to 10 years.
“And then, you would have to search all the rest of North Korea to make sure there was nothing that they did not declare,” said Hanham.
Last month North Korea claimed it destroyed its main nuclear testing site built deep inside a remote mountain complex. Verification by trained experts would be crucial and inspections would be needed for decades to make sure North Korea doesn’t cheat.
“With North Korea, the game is always sort of open, you’re never 100% sure. So that may not happen in a long time,” said Hanham.
Even if all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons were destroyed tomorrow, it would still have more than enough artillery and missiles to devastate nearby South Korea and Japan. North Korea also has chemical and biological weapons, which are some of the largest programs of their kind in the world.