North Korea Expected to Test a Missile Loaded With a Live Nuclear Weapon in 2018

This undated photo, released by the Korean Central News Agency on August 26, shows leader Kim Jong Un presiding over a target-strike exercise conducted by the special operation forces of the Korean People's Army at an undisclosed location. Getty

Experts have warned that if North Korea continues to further its weapons program at the rate it achieved this year, 2018 will likely see the test of a missile loaded with a live nuclear weapon.

Shea Cotton, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told The Washington Post that the device, which he called the "Juche bird," will probably be tested over the Pacific Ocean.

"A lot of folks in the U.S. have said North Korea still lacks the capability to put it all together," Cotton told the Post. "North Korea has made several statements suggesting they think they might need to show us once and for all that they do have that capability."

No one is sure whether North Korea can make a thermonuclear device small enough to pack into a missile. "I believe we have to assume it can," James M. Acton, a physicist and co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Washington Post shortly after the gigantic nuclear weapons test that took place on September 3.

That test dwarfed all the ones that preceded it. Most experts agreed the bomb's yield was at least 140 kilotons, and some claimed it neared 250 kilotons. For comparison, the biggest weapon North Korea tested before this year measured between 10 and 20 kilotons, reported The Washington Post.

If the higher estimate is accurate, that means Kim Jong Un has a bomb nearly 17 times more destructive than the one dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, according to the Post.

David Wright, co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, went a step further and told the Post that the bomb tested on September 3 was a "real H[ydrogen]-bomb" just as Kim Jong Un said, suggesting that the days of underestimating the dictator should be long behind us.

In addition to the nuclear test, North Korea executed more than 20 missile tests in 2017. On November 28, the Hwasong-15 missile test confirmed what experts warned earlier that year: that the missiles would have a range higher than 3,400 miles. The enormous missile likely had a range of around 8,100 miles.