According to a U.N. report released this month, North Korea attempted to sell a form of lithium metal to unidentified international buyers last year. The specific material is a key component used for developing miniaturized nuclear weapons, and the attempts to sell the material were discovered by investigators tracking Kim Jong Un’s weapons of mass destruction programs.
Republican Senator from Colorado, Cory Gardner, said that the U.N. report on North Korea “provides further evidence that North Korea will stop at nothing to advance its illicit nuclear and missile programs.”
The enriched lithium, known as lithium-6, has been produced by North Korea and is seen by nuclear experts as evidence that the country is accelerating its efforts to miniaturize a nuclear warhead. Lithium-6 can be used to create tritium which floods neutrons in a nuclear device and allows countries to build bigger bombs with smaller amounts of plutonium or uranium.
“Lithium-6 is ideal, not only for making tritium for boosting fission devices, but also for directly fueling advanced weapons—including thermonuclear bombs,” Henry Sokolski, a former Pentagon official who heads the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a Washington think tank, told The Wall Street Journal.
According to the WSJ, the amount of lithium-6 and the purity of the material they were trying to sell could be an indicator of what the buyer’s intended use may be. From the WSJ:
Lithium enriched to 40% purity can be used to produce tritium, while higher levels can be used for fueling hydrogen bombs. “It could be used for either, and neither is good,” said Greg Jones, a nuclear and defense expert at Rand Corp. in Los Angeles.
The U.N. report said that North Korea tried selling the lithium-6 through a front company run by the country’s state-owned “Green Pine Associated Corp.”