North Korean leader Kim's H-bomb claim draws skepticism

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SEOUL, Dec 10 (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared on Thursday to claim his country has developed a hydrogen bomb, a step up from the less powerful atomic bomb, but outside experts were skeptical.

Kim made the comments as he toured the Phyongchon Revolutionary Site, which marks the feats of his father who died in 2011 and his grandfather, state founder and eternal president, Kim Il Sung, the official KCNA news agency said.

The work of Kim Il Sung "turned the DPRK into a powerful nuclear weapons state ready to detonate a self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb to reliably defend its sovereignty and the dignity of the nation," KCNA quoted Kim Jong Un as saying.

DPRK are the initials of the isolated North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. A hydrogen bomb, also known as a thermonuclear bomb, uses more advanced technology to produce a significantly more powerful blast than an atomic bomb.

North Korea conducted underground tests to set off nuclear devices in 2006, 2009 and 2013, for which it has been subject to U.N. Security Council sanctions banning trade and financing activities that aid its weapons program.

See North Korean nuclear facilities from space:

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North Korean nuclear facilities
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North Korean leader Kim's H-bomb claim draws skepticism
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - JULY 2, 2015: Figure 3. Transformer Yard at the ELWR. Date: July 2, 2015. Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Mandatory credit: Image © 2015 DigitalGlobe Inc./38 North.
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - JULY 2, 2015: Figure 4. Construction at the Uranium Enrichment Facility. Date: July 2, 2015. Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Mandatory credit: Image © 2015 DigitalGlobe Inc./38 North.
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - JULY 2, 2015: Figure 1. Vehicles at the 5 MWe Reactor. Date: July 2, 2015. Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Mandatory credit: Image © 2015 DigitalGlobe Inc./38 North.
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - APRIL 29, 2015: Figure 2. Probable CO2 truck seen at the 5 MWe Reactor in April. Date April 29, 2015. Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Mandatory credit: Image © 2015 DigitalGlobe Inc./38 North.
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - May 24, 2015: Figure 4. Continued construction at the uranium enrichment facility. Note: image rotated. Date: May 24, 2015. Published on 38 North. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - NOVEMBER 4, 2014: This is Figure 3 -- DigitalGlobe imagery shows new activity seen at the Radiochemical Laboratory. Note: image rotated -- published on 38 North. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - JANUARY 11, 2015: This is Figure 4B. ELWR activity in January 2015. Note: image rotated. Date: January 11, 2015 -- published on 38 North. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - May 24, 2015: Figure 3: 5 MWe Reactor on May 24vehicles present, no indications of steam or water discharge. Note: image rotated. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - May 24, 2015: Figure 2. Power line service to 5 MWe Reactor area. Note: image rotated. Date: May 24, 2015. Published on 38 North. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 28, 2014: This is Figure 1 -- DigitalGlobe imagery of the 5 MWe Reactor appears to still be shutdown -- published on 38 North. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 27th, 2015: Figure 6a. Construction material visible at the Main Support Area at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site in North Korea. Date: March 27, 2015. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - MAY 16, 2015: Figure 6b. An old building has been re-roofed and a new building has been erected at the Main Support Area at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site in North Korea. Date: May 16, 2015 (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 7, 2013: This is Figure 9. a time progression of the experimental light water reactor (ELWR) development at the Yongbyon Nuclear Facility in North Korea. Featured in “Start-Up of North Korean Experimental Light Water Reactor Could Begin by Mid-2013 If Fuel is Available,” published on 38 North. Figure 9: February 7, 2013 (reactor building complete, cleanup underway). (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
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An official at South Korea's intelligence agency told Yonhap news agency there was no evidence that the North had hydrogen bomb capacity, and believed Kim was speaking rhetorically.

The Foreign Ministry in China, North Korea's most important economic and diplomatic backer, said China was dedicated to ensuring the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and resolving problems through talks.

"We hope that all sides can do more to ameliorate the situation and make constructive efforts to maintain peace and stability on the peninsula," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing when asked about Kim's remarks.

Impoverished North Korea and rich, democratic South Korea remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a treaty. The North has threatened to destroy the South and its major ally, the United States, in a sea of flames.

Despite the underground tests, outside experts suspect the North is short of achieving the capability to put a nuclear warhead on a missile, although it has boasted it had succeeded in the miniaturization of a weapon.

If the hydrogen bomb claim is true, it would indicate advances in the North's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"I think it's unlikely that they have an H-bomb at the moment, but I don't expect them to keep testing basic devices indefinitely, either," said Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

It was possible the North was referring to the technology of boosting the yield of a nuclear device, possibly using fusion fuel, Lewis said.

North Korea claimed in 2010 that it had successfully developed fusion technology.

Assessing progress of the North's nuclear program is difficult because no one outside a close circle of leaders and experts knows what advances have been made.

RELATED: See more of the North Korean leader

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Kim Jong Un's adventures
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North Korean leader Kim's H-bomb claim draws skepticism
This picture taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 12, 2012 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un celebrating the launch of the Unha-3 rocket, carrying the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, at the general satellite control and command center in Pyongyang. Hundreds of thousands of North Korean soldiers and civilians rallied on December 14 in the centre of Pyongyang for a mass celebration of the country's long-range rocket launch, state television showed. (Photo by KNS via AFP/Getty Images)
This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 12, 2014 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) inspecting the command of Korean People's Army (KPA) Unit 534. (Photo by KNS via AFP/Getty Images)
Photo provided by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Oct. 26, 2014, shows top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the completed Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage. The facility has over 250 rooms for nursing, education, physical exercise, and treatment, as well as outdoor and indoor wading pools, parks and various amusement equipment for children. (Photo: Xinhua/KCNA/Corbis)
Photo provided by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Oct. 26, 2014, shows top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the completed Pyongyang Baby Home and Orphanage. The facility has over 250 rooms for nursing, education, physical exercise, and treatment, as well as outdoor and indoor wading pools, parks and various amusement equipment for children. (Photo: Xinhua/KCNA/Corbis)
This picture taken from North Korean paper Rodong Sinmun on October 14, 2014 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) during an inspection tour of a newly-built housing complex in Pyongyang.  North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un has finally resurfaced with the help of a walking stick after an unexplained and prolonged absence that fuelled rampant speculation about his health and even rumours of a coup in the nuclear-armed state. (AFP PHOTO / Rodong Sinmun)
This picture taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 12, 2012 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (lower L) celebrating with staffs from the satellite control center during the launch of the Unha-3 rocket, carrying the satellite Kwangmyongsong-3, at the general satellite control and command center in Pyongyang. North Korea's leader has ordered more satellite launches, state media said on December 14, 2012, two days after Pyongyang's long-range rocket launch triggered global outrage and UN condemnation. (Photo by KNS via AFP/Getty Images)
This undated picture, released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 17, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting the February 20 factory of the Korean People's Army (KPA), producing varieties of foodstuff at undisclosed place in North Korea. (Photo by KNS via AFP/Getty Images)
Kim Jong Un flashes his computer skills for gathered North Korean officials. (KCNA/Reuters/Corbis)
This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 28, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (R) inspecting the August 25 Fishery Station under the Korean People's Army (KPA) Unit 313.(Photo by KCNA via AFP/Getty Images)
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