Study: North Korea produced nuclear fuel during denuclearization talks with US

North Korea continued to produce nuclear fuel while discussing denuclearization with the U.S. last year, according to a new study released Monday.

The research from Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation found that North Korea may have produced enough bomb fuel in the last year to produce seven weapons.

"We are not surprised that North Korea has not halted its fissile materials production in absence of formal negotiations," said Siegfried Hecker, an expert on North Korea's nuclear program who is a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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"Our analysis of open-source satellite imagery of the Yongbyon complex led us to estimate they may have added sufficient plutonium and highly enriched uranium for an additional 5 to 7 nuclear weapons on top of our 2017 estimate of approximately 30 weapons," said Hecker, who was commenting on the Stanford research. 

At the same time, North Korea did halt its actual testing of its nuclear program, signifying a lowered threat from the country. 

"The North did continue to produce fissile materials. But it took the remarkable step to end nuclear testing and long-range missile testing at a time during which North Korea had been rapidly increasing the sophistication of its nuclear weapons and missiles and their destructive power and reach," Hecker said. "Therefore, we conclude that the North not only halted that rapid advance but also rolled back the threat we judged the North’s nuclear and missile programs to pose in 2017."

The research concluded that “North Korea cannot deliver a nuclear warhead with any measure of confidence to the U.S. mainland,” although Hecker said its nuclear weapons were a real threat to Japan and South Korea.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job MORE and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are set to meet for a second summit at the end of February in Vietnam.

Last July in Singapore, the two leaders issued a joint declaration with North Korea agreeing to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in exchange for unspecified security guarantees from the U.S.

A report from top U.S. security officials delivered to the Senate late last month lines up with Stanford's results.

“We continue to assess that North Korea is unlikely to give up all of its nuclear weapons and production capabilities, even as it seeks to negotiate partial denuclearization steps to obtain key US and international concessions,” the report read.

A memo from United Nations monitors to the U.N. Security Council obtained by Reuters earlier this month reportedly said that they had “found evidence of a consistent trend on the part of the DPRK to disperse its assembly, storage and testing location.”

Nuclear experts and lawmakers have also expressed some hesitation over the chances of a successful denuclearization deal at the upcoming summit.