North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on Thursday claimed his country has developed the hydrogen bomb, a step up from the less powerful atomic bomb.
Kim made the comments as he toured the Phyongchon Revolutionary Site, which marks the feats of his father who died in 2011 and his grandfather, state founder and eternal president, Kim Il Sung, the official KCNA news agency said.
The work of Kim Il Sung “turned the DPRK (North Korea) into a powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate a self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb to reliably defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation,” KCNA quoted him as saying.
A hydrogen, or thermonuclear, device uses fusion in a chain reaction that results in a far more powerful explosion. North Korea has already tested three atom bombs, which rely on nuclear fission.
Outside experts were sceptical, with a South Korean intelligence official saying Kim’s claim was nothing more than “rhetoric” for domestic consumption.
“We don’t have any information that North Korea has developed an H-bomb... and we do not believe that North Korea has the technology to produce an H-bomb,” the official told the Yonhap news agency.
The North has made many unverifiable claims about its nuclear weapons strength, including the ability to strike the US mainland, which most experts dismiss -- at least for now.
North Korea conducted underground tests to set off nuclear devices in 2006, 2009 and 2013, for which it has been subject to UN Security Council sanctions banning trade and financing activities that aid its weapons programme.
Despite the underground tests, the country has been seen as short of achieving the capability to put a nuclear warhead on a missile.
“I think it’s unlikely that they have an H-bomb at the moment, but I don’t expect them to keep testing basic devices indefinitely, either,” said Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
North Korea’s main ally China said it had noted the reports of Kim’s H-bomb claim, but offered no opinion as to its credibility.
The situation on the Korean peninsula “is still complex and fragile”, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing. “We hope that all sides can do more to maintain peace and stability there,” Hua said.