N.Korea boasts success in nuclear fusion

North Korea on Wednesday claimed it had carried out a nuclear fusion reaction that could lead to a limitless supply of clean energy -- a process that the world's scientists have so far yet to achieve.

Physicists worldwide are striving to develop a nuclear fusion power plant, a project which the International Atomic Energy Agency terms "a great challenge".

But North Korea said it had triumphed using its own technology.

"The successful nuclear fusion marks a great event that demonstrated the rapidly developing cutting-edge science and technology of the DPRK (North Korea)," said Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling communist party.

It said the North's experts had worked hard to develop the "safe and environment-friendly new energy" technology their own way.

"Korean style" devices were designed and manufactured as part of the process, it added.

South Korean experts doubted that the North -- which suffers persistent power shortages in everyday life -- has made major progress in a process which potentially promises clean and limitless energy.

Yang Hyung-Lyeol, of South Korea's state-funded National Fusion Research Institute, said: "I don't think the North has any technology that we are not aware of. If so, it would mean the North would be on top of the world."

Nuclear fusion reactions can also be employed to make hydrogen bombs. But Yang said Wednesday's announcement did not seem linked to the North's atomic weapons programme.

Yang said there is little possibility of the technology being used for weapons. "Judging from technological terminology used in the announcement, the development has nothing to do with weaponising."

Yang said he was sceptical the North has technology or facilities on a par with advanced countries.

"North Korea may have began operating a small-scale magnetic nuclear fusion device but you cannot draw any parallel with our own KSTAR and other reactors in the world," he told AFP.

South Korea is a partner in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project to build a fusion power plant by the mid 2030s. Other key members include the United States, European Union members, Japan, Russia, China and India.

"Nuclear fusion research has been jointly conducted by key industrial states in the form of ITER and related technology is quite open in public and shared by many countries," Yang said.

The North said the achievement was made to mark the Day of the Sun -- the anniversary on April 15 of the birth of founding president Kim Il-Sung.

Nuclear fusion expert Lee Choon-Geun of South Korea's state-financed Science and Technology Policy Institute said the North had been conducting research in this field since the early 2000s.

"But it all comes down to budget and facilities. I don't think the North has such facilities as we and other advanced countries have."

The North has for decades had a nuclear weapons programme based on plutonium produced from spent fuel at its Yongbyon reactor. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has estimated it has up to six atomic weapons.

Last September it announced for the first time that it had reached the final stage of enriching uranium, a second way of making nuclear bombs.

Six-nation talks aimed at shutting down the North's nuclear programmes have been stalled since December 2008. In April last year the North announced it was quitting the forum.

It staged its second atomic weapons test the following month, incurring tougher United Nations sanctions.

Background: Nuclear fusion: North Korea claims Holy Grail of energy

North Korea's claim on Wednesday to have carried out nuclear fusion touches on a vision of cheap, green, endless energy that is mustering billions of research dollars among advanced economies and, say experts, may take decades to achieve.

Instead of splitting the atom -- the principle behind the atomic bomb and present-day nuclear reactors -- fusion entails ramming the nuclei of light atomic elements together to make heavier elements and in the process release huge amounts of energy.

In essence, it is the same principle that powers the stars. In the Sun, mighty gravitational forces crush hydrogen atoms together to produce helium, with solar energy the byproduct.

Replicating stellar power on Earth, though, means overcoming a daunting array of technical and financial hurdles and drawing on expertise from many fields and different countries.

So the sketchy claims by the impoverished, enclosed Communist state are bound to be eyed with scepticism.

Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of Pyongyang's ruling communist party, said the North's experts had developed nuclear fusion using a "Korean-style" thermonuclear device.

"The successful nuclear fusion marks a great event that demonstrated the rapidly developing cutting-edge science and technology of the DPRK (North Korea)," it said.

Under fusion, a huge jolt of heat, to nearly 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit) would kickstart the process, fusing atomic nuclei and containing them in a charged gas called a plasma.

Getting the process started is only one problem. Another is how to how to sustain it and contain the plasma so that the cloud of particles do not escape.

Then there is the big energy equation -- the cost in energy it takes to pump up the plasma to such high temperatures in comparison with the yield this brings.

So far, despite steady improvements, no one has achieved a self-sustaining fusion event longer than a few minutes and input/yield ratios remain low.

Current projects in are only at the early experimental stage and have each required commitments of billions of dollars just to be initiated.

A European-led initiative is the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), located Cadarache, southern France, scheduled to start plasma experiments in 2018 and if successful lead to a commercial reactor in the 2030s.

The backers in the 10-billion-euro scheme are the European Union (EU), which has a 45-percent share, China, India, South Korea, Japan and Russia as well as the United States.

The idea is to have fusion in a reactor fuelled by two isotopes of hydrogen -- deuterium and tritium -- with helium as the waste product in addition to the energy.

The plasma would be contained in a magnetic field in a doughnut-shaped vessel called a tokamak.

Looking at the key issue of fusion ignition, the United States has built the world's largest laser, a 3.5-billion-dollar behemoth covering the size of two football pitches, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The idea is for 192 laser beams to zap fuel tiny pellets of beryllium, plastic or high-density carton, so compressing the fuel that temperatures of 111 million C (200 million F) are briefly reached.

Tested for the first time in January, the lasers fire 40 times more power than the average consumption of the entire planet, albeit for only a few nanoseconds.

Fusion's supporters say the abundance of raw materials is almost infinite and the energy itself and its waste products are far safer than with fission, for there is no critical mass. Critics say the research billions would be better spent on improving current clean renewable sources, such as wind, solar and wave energy.

Explore further

Nuclear fusion power project to start in 2018: official

(c) 2010 AFP

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May 12, 2010
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May 12, 2010

I think Kim felt a need of attention...after all it's been a few months since the SK frigate incident...

May 12, 2010
What is the point of this article? This isn't science, this is gossip. Most of the content isn't even on topic, but rather an explanation of how fusion works.

May 12, 2010
That's right, the nation that can barely launch a rocket has unlocked the secrets of controled nuclear fusion. In other news, pigs have evolved flight and chickens have begun breathing fire in several Kansas farms.
What's the word for this? Oh, yeah. BALLUX! Also acceptable: poppycock, balonga, and bull crap.

May 12, 2010
Considering the failure of ITER to produce ignition and the NIF in the US lacking containment and fuel feed, applications are being geared to data mining than power generation; N.K. might have a decent chance, the next year's power and agricultural status will exhibit the status.

May 12, 2010
How would a country with 80% illiteracy, no electrical grid, and barely functional water and sewage treatment systems develop Fusion technology?

Better question. How exactly did they build the devices required to control nuclear fusion reaction experiments when they don't have enough neodynium and cerium to build superconductors while the only countries with available stockpiles refuse to sell to NK?

It's amazing what an idiot would like you to believe when he thinks that he's a God on Earth.

May 12, 2010
Laugh if you want but I wouldn't be completely surprised if it's true. There have been many non-mainstream ideas for nuclear power floating around for many years but we don't provide any funding for them. Many of which would be relatively EXTREMELY cheap to fund compared to what we are spending on mainstream fusion. Cold fusion is just one and it doesn't take expensive stuff to play with. A backwards half-ass country like N Korea would be dumb enough to spend money on them and maybe get lucky.

May 12, 2010
Remember, half of the USSR's accomplishments were nothing but fluff and PR. This sounds about the same, if not worse.

May 12, 2010
This is off topic but I like to rant. I don't know who the idiots are that rate things with no regard to the factuality of the comments (like mine above which is totally factual) but from now on I am rating every single comment in any thread I see a 1. It seems to me the only way to fight these idiots is with fire. Normally I don't ever rate comments because it's stupid to rate them, who touches the rating slider anyway or cares about a comments rating? So everyone that writes comments just rate everything a 1 to render all ratings as meaningless as they really are.

May 12, 2010
@Ravenrant: When you start with conspiracy theories, you're going to get downrated by me, at the least. I'm so sorry about that sand you have in dark places, but you should maybe try to get over it.

May 12, 2010
NK developing fusion power while they can't feed their own people reminds me of the professor on Gilligan's Island who could make a radio out of a coconut but he couldn't fix the hole in the boat!

May 12, 2010
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May 12, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

May 12, 2010
I mention conspiracy theories and guess who shows up?

If it is so simple, seneca/alizee/ZeroX/whatever, why haven't you published all of your incredible findings in professional journals?

May 12, 2010
How would a country with 80% illiteracy, no electrical grid, and barely functional water and sewage treatment systems develop Fusion technology?
Taking "illiteracy" as a guiding point, I believe what they really wanted to say was FISSION instead of fussion. Be it either by a translation mistake by the journalist who translated the message from North Korean, or by the almost infinite insight of excellent NK nuclear "scientists" :)

May 12, 2010
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May 13, 2010
its probably just a hydrogen bomb exploded and uses the heat to generate steam.

May 13, 2010
I actually have to agree with otto here. Text can be just as dishonest but also have a greater aire of authority, as you've granted it.

May 13, 2010
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May 16, 2010

I hope they achieved it, actually. It would be very weird... :D

May 17, 2010
"I'm the smartest, most clever, most physically fit..."

May 17, 2010
I think they did steal info off my computer. Someone was nosing around on it while I wa sworking on my fusion theories. I've had fusion for months as well as zero energy. It just hasnt been announced.

May 18, 2010
I dont think they have anything except maybe the method to overcome the Coulomb Barrier which was on my computer. Perhaps they meant COLD fusion.

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