(LEAD) N. Korean rocket capable of hitting half the U.S.: American scientists

SEOUL, July 1 (Yonhap) -- The long-range rocket North Korea launched in April could be converted into a ballistic missile that can theoretically hit half the United States with a substantial payload, two U.S. physicists have concluded from their joint study.

North Korea launched on April 5 what it claims was a rocket designed to carry a satellite into orbit. The U.S. and its allies say nothing entered orbit, calling the "Unha-2" rocket a disguised form of a ballistic missile capable of flying over 6,700 kilometers.

MIT professor Theodore Postol and David Wright, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said the rocket could fly even further -- over 10,000 kilometers -- if changed into a missile.


"The Unha launcher represents a significant advance over North Korea's previous launchers and would have the capability to reach the continental United States with a payload of one ton or more if North Korea modified it for use as a ballistic missile," they said.

"It could have a range of 10,000-10,500 kilometers, allowing it to reach Alaska, Hawaii, and roughly half of the lower 48 states," they said in an article posted this week on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Noting that a "first-generation plutonium warhead could have a mass of 1,000 kilograms or more," Postol and Wright said the rocket could carry a 1-ton payload as far as 7,000-7,500 kilometers even if it had only two of its three stages.
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