A majority of South Koreans support the idea of developing nuclear weapons or redeploying US atomic bombs to cope with the threat from North Korea, according to a survey published on Wednesday.

The survey, conducted by the private Asan Institute for Policy Studies, found that 68.6 percent said South Korea needs atomic bombs, while 28.9 percent replied negatively.

Some 67.3 percent supported the redeployment of US nuclear weapons in South Korea while 30.1 percent opposed it, the institute said in a telephone poll of 1,000 people.

South Korea has no nuclear weapons, but some conservative politicians have been calling for an independent nuclear programme or the return of US atomic weapons in the face of what they call the North’s repeated provocations.

The United States withdrew its atomic weapons from the South in 1991, a year before the two Koreas signed a denuclearisation deal.

During his trip to Seoul on March 2, Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, ruled out the possibility of US tactical nuclear weapons being redeployed in the South.

Pyongyang triggered security fears last November when it disclosed an apparently functional uranium enrichment plant to visiting US experts.

The North said it was a peaceful energy project, but experts said the facility could hand Pyongyang a second route to making atomic bombs in addition to its existing plutonium stockpile.

Six-party disarmament talks have been deadlocked since Pyongyang walked out in April 2009 in protest at UN condemnation of an apparent missile test. The hardline state staged its second nuclear test the following month.