Updated February. 14, 2013 06:22
North Koreas latest nuclear test has sparked speculation over whether South Korea can produce nuclear weapons.
Experts say assessing Seouls capability for developing such weapons is difficult because the country uses nuclear technologies solely for peaceful purposes, but not impossible since it possesses leading technologies for generating nuclear power and making nuclear fuel for research.
South Korea introduced nuclear technology after signing an agreement with the U.S. in 1956 that remains in effect for exclusive use in non-military and civilian purposes. From a purely technological point of view, however, South Korea can make nuclear weapons. Experts say that after decades of nuclear research, the country has accumulated a considerable level of direct and indirect knowledge for manufacturing nuclear bombs.
Making nuclear weapons requires technology for making detonators, and South Korea is believed to have this given its extensive experience in making chemical weapons.
The real issue is securing nuclear fuel. Producing nuclear fuel requires facilities for uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing.
South Korea once enriched uranium for research purposes. In 2000, the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute received an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency after the think tank conducted an experiment that used 0.2 grams of uranium. Though the experiment was for research, it was a violation of the IAEA`s rules and warranted an inspection.
North Korea has ultra high-speed centrifuges for uranium enrichment, but South Korea does not. Even if Seoul wants to develop uranium enrichment centrifuges, it is extremely difficult to obtain their parts because trade is tightly restricted.
South Korea possesses a certain degree of plutonium reprocessing technology. As the country conducts research on pyroprocessing for reusing spent nuclear fuel for power generation, it has the technology for reprocessing nuclear fuel. In theory, reprocessing spent fuel from nuclear reactors in the country could generate plutonium for nuclear weapons.