Japan Warns North Korea Nuclear Threat Has Entered ‘New Stage’

TOKYO — The threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has entered “a new stage,” the Japanese Defense Ministry warned in a new report released Tuesday.

“It is possible that North Korea has already achieved the miniaturization of nuclear weapons and has acquired nuclear warheads,” the ministry said in its annual report.

“Since last year, when it forcibly implemented two nuclear tests and more than 20 ballistic missile launches, the security threats have entered a new stage,” it added in the 563-page document known as the Defense White Paper.

Air raid and evacuation drills have been held in Japan in recent months as North Korea has stepped up its missile testing program.

Kim Jong Un’s regime has carried out a series of missile tests since the beginning of this year, including two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) which landed off the west coast of Japan in early and late July respectively.

Kim announced in March 2016 that North Korea had the capability of miniaturizing a nuclear bomb so it can be placed on a missile.

That claim was dismissed by South Korean officials at the time.

But speaking to reporters Tuesday, Japan’s defense minister, Itsunori Onodera said North Korea’s ballistic missiles had “become a new threat to Japan’s security,” echoing words used by prime minister Shinzo Abe in March.

Schoolchildren leave the compound of their school during an evacuation drill in the town of Abu in western Japan.