Does North Korea really have a hydrogen bomb?

North Korea has indicated that it possesses the capacity for this powerful weapon, but these claims are difficult to verify.

KCNA/Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits the Phyongchon Revolutionary Site, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang December 10, 2015.

During a tour of the Phyongchon Revolutionary Site, a memorial to North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and its most recent leader, Kim Jong-il, the Hermit Kingdom’s current president appeared to make a startling claim.

Kim Jong-un said that thanks to the “tireless efforts” of his grandfather, the country has now developed the capacity for a hydrogen bomb.

North Korea is now "a powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate [an] A-bomb and H-bomb to reliably defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation,” the state-run KCNA news agency quoted Mr. Kim as saying.

Hydrogen bombs, or H-bombs, are even more powerful than atomic weapons because they gain their detonating powers from nuclear fusion.

North Korea has publicly tested nuclear devices in the past, drawing both condemnation and sanctions from the United Nations. The most recent sanctions are in place until April of next year.

But outside experts remain skeptical that North Korea has the capacity for these kinds of nuclear weapons.

"It's hard to regard North Korea as possessing an H-bomb. I think [the country] seems to be developing it,"  Lee Chun-geun, research fellow at the Science and Technology Policy Institute, told the South Korean news outlet Yonhap.

A South Korean intelligence official told Yonhap that he believed Kim was merely speaking rhetorically.

"We don't have any information that North Korea has developed an H-bomb," the official said. "We do not believe that North Korea, which has not succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear bombs, has the technology to produce an H-bomb."

North Korea has often made threats about its nuclear arsenal in the past. In September, North Korea stated that the country is prepared to engage in nuclear confrontations with the United States at “any time,” should they be provoked.

The US has said that it is fully ready to respond to any potential threats.

"We've moved, over time, a good deal of missile defense capability to the region… in order to be ready and vigilant for anything the North Koreans may or may not do." US Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert said in an interview with CNN.

Because North Korea is so private about its military plans, even in its official news coverage, it is difficult to confirm how far along the country truly is in its progress towards developing a nuclear weapons arsenal.

This report contains material from the Reuters.

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