New report sheds light on North Korea's deadly biological weapons

In addition to its nuclear capabilities, North Korea has the ability to douse thousands of people with lethal doses of anthrax, smallpox and viral hemorrhagic fever according to a newly released report from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.

Kim Jong-un’s regime is thought to have the third-largest chemical weapons supply in the world, and its arsenal includes at least 13 types of biological weapons. The Belfer report on the Hermit Kingdom’s biological weapons spells out the magnitude of the problem and indicates the information that is still missing. As it turns out, the threat from the isolated Asian nation isn’t limited to nukes and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“North Korea has a very advanced biological weapons program, and it is extremely dangerous because it can be delivered covertly,” Andrew Weber, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, said in an interview with Mic. “Honestly, I wish these threats were taken as seriously as the nuclear weapons threat — because they should be.”

RELATED: These maps show impact of a North Korean thermonuclear weapon on US cities

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These maps show impact of a North Korean thermonuclear weapon on US cities
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These maps show impact of a North Korean thermonuclear weapon on US cities

We used Google Earth Pro to 3D-illustrate each scenario from Nukemap (which now has a convenient export feature to the app). Here's what the blast result colors mean:

Yellow: Fireball (0.56 miles wide, 1.03 miles high) — In the area closest to the bomb's detonation site, flames would incinerate most buildings, objects, and people.

Green: Radiation (1.24 miles wide) — A nuclear bomb's gamma and other radiation are so intense in this zone that 50% or more of people die within "several hours to several weeks," according to Nukemap.

Blue-gray: Air blast (4.64 miles wide) — This shows a blast area with 5 pounds per square inch of pressure, which is powerful enough to collapse most residential buildings and rupture eardrums. "Injuries are universal, fatalities are widespread," Nukemap says.

Orange: Thermal radiation (6.54 miles wide) — This region is flooded with skin-scorching ultraviolet light, burning anyone within view of the blast. "Third-degree burns extend throughout the layers of skin and are often painless because they destroy the pain nerves," Nukemap says. "They can cause severe scarring or disablement, and can require amputation."

Tampa, Florida: 67,000 dead, 161,000 injured

The blasts we use to estimate deaths and injuries are 150-kiloton airbursts detonated about 1 mile above the ground. Nuclear weapons inflict the most damage as airbursts — detonating the bombs hundreds or thousands of feet above a target spreads blast energy more efficiently. That makes a bomb more deadly than if it were detonated on the ground, since soil and structures can absorb or block some of that energy. 

This 150-kiloton blast over Tampa could destroy:

- 54 hospitals and medical facilities
- Two fire stations
- 46 schools and educational facilities
- 74 churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship

In the event of a 150-kiloton surface detonation in Tampa, the nearby city of St. Petersburg may get a deadly dose of fallout.

Airbursts create little radioactive fallout compared to surface blasts, which suck up debris, irradiate it, and spread it for hundreds of miles. An airburst strike isn't guaranteed, however, so we've included predictions of fallout clouds from ground detonations to provide a sense of how far this threat can travel.

We used Nukemap's estimation of where fallout would travel based on the prevailing winds on Thursday, October 12. We'll note, however, that fallout clouds usually take on a more complex shape due to high-altitude winds.

New Haven, Connecticut: 85,000 dead, 117,000 injured

This 150-kiloton blast over New Haven could destroy:

- 93 hospitals and medical facilities
- Seven fire stations
- 114 schools and educational facilities
- 160 churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship

Parts of Long Island, Queens, and Brooklyn may not escape the deadly fallout effects of a ground attack on New Haven.

The strongest fallout would be toward the center (red), emitting about 1,000 rads per hour. The weakest fallout (yellow), emitting about 1 rad per hour, would spread the farthest.

Weaker fallout dissipates withing 24 hours, though radioactive debris close to a blast site can remain dangerous for 48 hours.

A person who stood outside in the 100-rad-per-hour zone (dark orange) for four hours would get 400 rads of radiation exposure — enough to kill 50% of people by acute radiation syndrome.

Detroit, Michigan: 102,000 dead, 220,000 injured

This 150-kiloton blast over Detroit could destroy:

- 59 hospitals and medical facilities
- Seven fire stations
- 62 schools and educational facilities
- 56 churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship

Evening winds would blow fallout debris 100 miles southwest of the city center.

Miami, Florida: 125,000 dead, 277,000 injured

This 150-kiloton blast over Miami could destroy:

- 50 hospitals and medical facilities
- Five fire stations
- 116 schools and educational facilities
- 97 churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship

Radioactive fallout from a Miami ground blast might travel all the way across the tip of the Florida peninsula.

Honolulu, Hawaii: 151,000 dead, 165,000 injured

This 150-kiloton blast over Honolulu could destroy:

- 34 hospitals and medical facilities
- Six fire stations
- 147 schools and educational facilities
- 141 churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship

Most fallout from a nuclear ground strike on Honolulu would blow into the Pacific Ocean.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 301,000 dead, 465,000 injured

This 150-kiloton blast over Philadelphia could destroy:

- 113 hospitals and medical facilities
- 14 fire stations
- 181 schools and educational facilities
- 183 churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship

Cities as distant as Baltimore could get sprayed with 1-rad-per-hour nuclear fallout from a ground blast in Philadelphia.
San Francisco, California: 305,000 dead, 361,000 injured

This 150-kiloton blast over San Francisco could destroy:

- 295 hospitals and medical facilities
- 10 fire stations
- 94 schools and educational facilities
- 47 churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship

The area's East Bay region could get hit hard with intense fallout.

Boston, Massachusetts: 311,000 dead, 491,000 injured

This 150-kiloton blast over Boston could destroy:

- 79 hospitals and medical facilities
- 14 fire stations
- 190 schools and educational facilities
- 146 churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship

Fallout from a Boston-based nuclear ground blast would penetrate deep into Massachusetts.
Chicago, Illinois: 351,000 dead, 492,000 injured

This 150-kiloton blast over Chicago could destroy:

- 98 hospitals and medical facilities
- 15 fire stations
- 263 schools and educational facilities
- 117 churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship

Radioactive fallout from a blast on the ground in Chicago might spread across the western shores of Lake Michigan. Milwaukee could even be within range.

New York, New York: 959,000 dead, 1.5 million injured

This 150-kiloton blast over Manhattan could destroy:

- 226 hospitals and medical facilities
- 20 fire stations
- 432 schools and educational facilities
- 389 churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship

A thick slice of central New Jersey, and perhaps cities as distant as Philadelphia, could get hit with dangerous fallout.

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Biological warfare might make sense for North Korea

Biological warfare is the act of intentionally releasing infectious diseases onto a population. Bioweapons are inherently different than chemical weapons, as they encompass contagious agents like smallpox or toxins that cause disease. Anthrax, for example, is a bioweapon.

Bioweapons can be unleashed in a number of ways: via contaminating food, by attaching spray tanks to drones or by using aerosol technology found in everyday pesticide foggers, to name just a few methods.

In 1984, 751 people got food poisoning in a bioterrorism attack involving contaminated salad bars across a small number of U.S. restaurants. And in 2001, five Americans died from Anthrax-laced letters. While these are smaller incidents, they show the huge potential for damage: “A few kilograms of anthrax, equivalent to a few bottles of wine, released into a dense city could kill 50% of the population,” the Belfer report said. Technically, we’re talking about weapons of mass destruction here.

RELATED: North Korea's Missiles

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North Korea's Missiles
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North Korea's Missiles
The scene of the intermediate-range ballistic missile Pukguksong-2's launch test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) May 22, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
Missiles are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of North Korea's founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Sue-Lin Wong
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People cheer as a missile is driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Military vehicles carry missiles with characters reading 'Pukkuksong' during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father, Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA on the spot in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 7, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERSATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A fire drill of ballistic rockets by Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force is pictured in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 6, 2016. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
FILE PHOTO - An underwater test-firing of a strategic submarine ballistic missile is seen in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on April 24, 2016. KCNA/File Photo via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A view of a firing contest among multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) batteries selected from large combined units of the KPA, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on December 21, 2016. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
Ballistic rocket is seen launching during a drill by the Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on July 21, 2016. KCNA/via ReutersATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS.Ã TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A test launch of ground-to-ground medium long-range ballistic rocket Hwasong-10 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 23, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A new multiple launch rocket system is test fired in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 4, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA
A rocket is launched during a demonstration of a new large-caliber multiple rocket launching system attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (not pictured) at an unknown location, in this undated file photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 22, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA/Files ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A rocket is fired during a drill by anti-aircraft units of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang November 3, 2015. REUTERS/KCNA ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
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“A single person with a backpack sprayer could deliver tens of thousands of lethal doses of biological weapons,” Weber said. “And if [that agent] spreads from person to person like smallpox, they would only have to infect a few people for it to become a global catastrophe.”

Weber is concerned that biological warfare is the most strategically sensible option for North Korea to attack another nation — even before a hypothetical full-blown war — because although the technology exists to differentiate a natural outbreak from a bioterror attack, there isn’t always a scientific means of proving who initiates it.

“It’s hard to attribute blame,” Weber said. “Frankly, that deniability and uncertainty is what would make this type of attack more attractive to the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] regime. I think it would be used in what I would call a mobilization period ... in a period of tension not unlike today, where the concern is that the United States is building up its military presence and preparation for war.”

RELATED: North Korea unveils new weapons at military parade

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North Korea unveils new weapons at military parade
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North Korea unveils new weapons at military parade
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un applauds during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Missiles are driven past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
High ranking military officers cheer as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives for a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
People react as they march past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
TOPSHOT - Korean People's Army (KPA) tanks are displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on April 15 saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Korean People's Army (KPA) soldiers march on Kim Il-Sung squure during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on April 15 saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to people attending a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Military vehicles carry missiles with characters reading "Pukkuksong" during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Members of the Korean People's Army (KPA) ride on mobile missile launchers during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on April 15 saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korean soldiers march and shout slogans during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
An unidentified rocket is displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on April 15 saluted as ranks of goose-stepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
People carry flags in front of statues of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung (L) and late leader Kim Jong Il during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
North Korean soldiers march and shout slogans during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father, Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A soldier salutes from atop an armoured vehicle as it drives past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
North Korean soldiers march and shout slogans during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
North Korean soldiers attend a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Attendees carry sheets in colours of the national flag of North Korea during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
North Korean soldiers, some of them on horses, march during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Civilian attendees watch North Korean soldiers marching during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
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Imagine North Korea unleashing bioweapons on ports and air bases to slow down armed forces, Weber said. In a civilian attack, diseases could be covertly deployed in dense cities like Tokyo and Los Angeles. North Korea just recently demonstrated both the ability and audacity to smuggle a chemical weapon — VX — into a Malaysian airport in February. This instance led to the death of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam.

“If they can deliver VX into Malaysia and get it into the country secretly, they can do the same, even more easily, with biological weapons,” Weber said. “This is a burning concern of mine, that they could use biological weapons in peacetime. It’s more likely they will use [them] than nuclear weapons, I think.”

But the public shouldn’t panic, Weber said, and others are less convinced that biological warfare is likely or would be North Korea’s first means of attack.

“In my opinion, it’s really hard to imagine,” Melissa Hanham, senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said in a phone interview. “Part of the reason [biological weapons] were so easy to ban was because armies didn’t like using them. It risked their own soldiers too much.”

Militaries around the world, however, can vaccinate their own forces to prevent death from certain bioweapons. North Korean soldiers are thought to be vaccinated against smallpox, while U.S. soldiers on the Korean peninsula are required to be vaccinated against both smallpox and anthrax.

RELATED: As tensions rise, North Korea stages mass rally in Pyongyang

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As tensions rise, North Korea stages mass rally in Pyongyang
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As tensions rise, North Korea stages mass rally in Pyongyang
A view shows a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.?
Servicepersons of the Ministry of People's Security met on August 10, 2017 to express full support for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government statement, in this photo released on August 11, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A general view shows a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.??
Servicepersons of the Ministry of People's Security met on August 10, 2017 to express full support for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government statement, in this photo released on August 11, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A general view shows a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.??
A general view shows a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.??
People participate in a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.?
People participate in a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.?
A general view shows a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
A view shows a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.?
A view shows a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.?
TOPSHOT - This picture taken on August 11, 2017 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 12, 2017 shows North Korean youths and workers and trade union members holding a rally to protest the UN Security Council's 'sanctions resolution' at the compound of the Monument to Party Founding in Pyongyang. Nearly a week ago, the UN Security Council unanimously passed fresh sanctions against Pyongyang over its weapons program, including export bans, a new punishment that could cost North Korea $1 billion a year. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIS KNS AND AFP PHOTO / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture taken on August 11, 2017 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 12, 2017 shows North Korean youths and workers and trade union members holding a rally to protest the UN Security Council's 'sanctions resolution' at the Youth Park Open-Air theatre in Pyongyang. Nearly a week ago, the UN Security Council unanimously passed fresh sanctions against Pyongyang over its weapons program, including export bans, a new punishment that could cost North Korea $1 billion a year. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIS KNS AND AFP PHOTO / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A view shows a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.?
This picture taken on August 10, 2017 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 11, 2017 shows service personnel of the Ministry of People's Security at a rally in support of North Korea's stance against the US, in Pyongyang. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A view shows a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.?
This picture taken on August 10, 2017 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 11, 2017 shows service personnel of the Ministry of People's Security at a rally in support of North Korea's stance against the US, in Pyongyang. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a Pyongyang city mass rally held at Kim Il Sung Square on August 9, 2017, to fully support the statement of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government in this photo released on August 10, 2017 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.??
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But bioweapons have their advantages: They’re quiet, they don’t require large stockpiles like chemical weapons and doctors might not catch them early enough. Anthrax symptoms, for instance, look a lot like the common cold.

 

A look at North Korea’s potential bioweapon factory

While North Korea hasn’t exactly admitted to having biological weapons, assessments from the U.S. and South Korean governments indicate the DPRK became capable of biological warfare as early as the 1960s. Several North Korean escapees have confirmed this.

In 2015, DPRK state media touted images of Kim Jong-un strolling through an alleged pesticide facility called the Pyongyang Bio-Technical Institute. Photos and satellite images of the structure suggest it could be capable of producing both Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacteria used for insecticide, and Bacillus anthracis for anthrax.

“There really isn’t a sound reason for North Korea to need this kind of facility,” Hanham said. “They can address any food insecurity they are having with chemical pesticides rather than biopesticides — it’s cheaper and easier.”

Both the Soviet Union and Iraq had “dual-use” facilities as cover-ups for bioweapon production, Hanham added, leading her to believe it’s history repeating itself.

RELATED: Children in North Korea

20 PHOTOS
Children in North Korea
See Gallery
Children in North Korea

From an early age, kids living outside the capital city of Pyongyang are made to work on North Korean farms. Forced labor accounts for a large portion of the country's economic output.

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 

Some reports have stated that workers who don't comply can be sent to concentration camps as punishment.

 REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 

SourceHuman Rights Watch

In less developed regions, the trek to school can be fraught with construction projects and dangerous terrain. School buses, when villages have them, are often repurposed dump trucks.

 REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Sourceearth nutshell

For those without parents, life in North Korean orphanages can be especially brutal. Even the children who get adopted risk rejection later in life if their parents can't support themselves.

 REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 

SourceCNN

Meanwhile, families that have a bit more money can afford small luxuries, like traditional North Korean clothes.

 REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

But money doesn't free a family from political obligations. Many still worship the country's leaders and make regular trips to the national monuments that honor them, children in tow.

 REUTERS/Kyodo 

Last June, Kim Jong Un organized a performance titled, "We Are the Happiest in the World" — a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Korean Children's Union.

 REUTERS/KCNA 

Indoctrination starts even earlier, however — sometimes in kindergarten. Young kids learn anti-American messages and use toy rifles and grenades to attack cartoon images of soldiers.

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

SourceWashington Post

On International Children's Day, a mock military parade in the capital city of Pyongyang features kids dressed up as members of the North Korean army.

REUTERS/Kyodo 

The conditions inside schools aren't always sanitary. One kindergarten is located inside the Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang textile mill.

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

But such is the nature of inequality in North Korea. Families that don't live in poverty can give their kids a better chance at fun, joy-filled upbringings.

 REUTERS/Jacky Chen 

For instance, some of the most high-achieving children train at the Mangyongdae Children's Palace, a facility that provides lessons in foreign languages, computing skills, and sports.

 REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Some have described Mangyongdae as supremely strange. One visitor to an art class never saw the kids actually touch pen to paper, despite the professional-level illustrations presented before them.

 REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

SourceAbandoned Kansai

Run by the Korean Youth Corps, Mangyongdae reportedly accommodates up to 5,400 children at a time in its massive concrete building.

 REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

SourceAbandoned Kansai

Their performances are grandiose extensions of the North Korean cult of personality. Themes of honor and greatness are pervasive throughout.

 REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

During a performance for foreign journalists last May, for instance, many of the choral, dance, and acrobatic routines had heavy political undertones.

 REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Nevertheless, coercion and fear-mongering come quickly in adulthood. People's childhood years may be their only opportunity to live somewhat care-free.

 REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

 The children aren't old enough to understand the propaganda they're being fed or know how deplorable their living conditions are.The children aren't old enough to understand the propaganda they're being fed or know how deplorable their living conditions are.

REUTERS/David Gray

It only lasts a short while, but childhood may be the time when North Koreans have the most in common with the rest of the world.

 REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

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“It’s expensive. It involves laundering money and finding shipping methods to get all that stuff in the country. It’s not simple,” she said. “They went through a lot of trouble to build that place.”

 

What the future could look like

Both Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer at Microsoft, have been vocal about their fears of bioterrorism. And since 2011, South Korea and the U.S. have conducted annual drills to prepare for possible chemical or bioattacks. That’s still not enough, Weber said; however, he did say he sees some rays of light.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, but clearly there’s a long way to go,” Weber said. He suggested more drills, more vaccines and antibiotics for civilians, more detection systems that identify attacks, more biodefense research and more training for health care workers so they can identify bioattack symptoms early on.

“It’s hard for lawmakers to appropriate funds for rare events like [bioterror attacks],” he added. “It’s easier, quite frankly, to spend money on tanks and traditional weapons systems than it is to invest in new medicines and new diagnostics.”

RELATED: Countdown to a standoff -- a timeline of tension with North Korea

11 PHOTOS
Countdown to a standoff: A timeline of tension with North Korea
See Gallery
Countdown to a standoff: A timeline of tension with North Korea

Jan. 6, 2016:

After four years in power, Kim Jong Un says his country can produce a hydrogen bomb, the first step toward a nuclear weapon that could target the United States. The nation tests a device, but Western experts are not convinced it is a genuine hydrogen bomb.

Feb. 7, 2016:

North Korea sends up a satellite. The United States calls this a disguised test of an engine powerful enough to launch an ICBM.

March 9, 2016:

North Korea claims it can miniaturize a nuclear device to fit onto a missile.

June 23, 2016:

North Korea says it has successfully tested an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), with a range of 2,000 to 3,400 miles. Kim Jong Un claims the country can now attack "Americans in the Pacific operation theater," including the territory of Guam.

Sept. 9, 2016:

North Korea conducts its fifth and largest nuclear test on the anniversary of the country's founding. It says it has mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile.

April 15, 2017:

North Korea reveals a new ICBM design, displaying the missiles at a military parade to mark the birthday of founding leader Kim Il Sung. Within three months, the missiles are tested.

July 4, 2017:

North Korea tests an ICBM for the first time, saying it can launch a missile that can reach the continental United States. The missile, Hwasong-14, is tested again three weeks later, this time in a night launch.

Aug. 8, 2017:

North Korea's army threatens to fire missiles towards Guam in an "enveloping fire." The message comes hours after President Donald Trump warns Pyongyang that it will be "met with fire and fury" if North Korea does not stop threatening the United States.

Aug. 23, 2017:

North Korea publishes photographs of Kim beside a diagram of what appears to be a new ICBM. Weapons experts say it will be more powerful than the missiles tested by Pyongyang in July, and could have Washington and New York within range.

Aug 29, 2017:

North Korea fires an intermediate range missile over northern Japan, prompting warnings to residents to take cover. The missile falls into the Pacific Ocean, but sharply raises tensions in the region.

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As North Korea continues to lob threats, Seoul, South Korea, is carrying on with business as usual for now. But in a time when relations between North Korea and the U.S. are increasingly strained, diplomacy is seen as the better solution.

“All weapons of mass destruction are pretty bad news,” Hanham said. “The trick is also to convince North Korea not to use them in the first place.”

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