As tensions continue to rise on the Korean peninsula, North Korea has begun to experiment with loading anthrax onto intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reports.
According to an unidentified South Korean source, the rogue nation is currently conducting heat and pressure tests to see whether anthrax can survive the extreme temperatures the bacteria would face during a missile's reentry into the atmosphere. Compared to similar biological agents, anthrax is particularly dangerous—aside from being deadly, it's difficult to see, smell, taste, or otherwise detect, according to the CDC.
North Korea is likely developing the biological weapon because its nuclear-tipped warheads might not be capable of reaching the US mainland, the source said. It's still unclear precisely how advanced the Hermit Kingdom's nuclear ICBM program has become, but that hasn't stopped some US states from preparing for an attack—or kept experts from gaming out what might happen if North Korea actually does try to nuke America.
US intelligence officials have long warned of North Korea's developing biological weapons program. The country has allegedly been stockpiling smallpox, anthrax, and other dangerous bacterial strains since at least the 1990s, the Washington Post reports, and it has likely already acquired thousands of tons of the stuff. A 2015 video tour of the Pyongyang Biotechnical Institute—ostensibly used to manufacture pesticides—fueled speculation that the country has the ability to produce "military-sized batches" of biological weapons.
Earlier this week, the White House's National Security Strategy report found that Kim Jong Un's regime is "pursuing chemical and biological weapons which could also be delivered by missile," though it didn't mention anthrax by name.
"North Korea—a country that starves its own people—has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that could threaten our homeland," the report stated.
Pyongyang quickly issued a statement denying the report, calling its findings "groundless" and threatening to "take revenge" on the US for spreading what it dismissed as bunk.
"As a state party to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), [North Korea] maintains its consistent stand to oppose development, manufacture, stockpiling, and possession of biological weapons," the country declared.