Joshua Pollack"Become the Sun": NK Nuclear (Con)fusion

North Korean scientists have, without warning, solved the problem of nuclear fusion. So reported the official daily Rodong Sinmun the other day, prompting bafflement worldwide. KCNA has the highlights:

DPRK Succeeds in Nuclear Fusion

Pyongyang, May 12 (KCNA) — Scientists of the DPRK succeeded in nuclear fusion reaction on the significant occasion of the Day of the Sun this year, according to Rodong Sinmun Wednesday.

It goes on:

The successful nuclear fusion marks a great event that demonstrated the rapidly developing cutting-edge science and technology of the DPRK.

The nuclear fusion technology is called “artificial solar” technology as it represents a field of the latest science and technology for the development of new energy desired by humankind…

Now obviously this is balderdash, but what kind of balderdash is it?

To all appearances, it’s not about actual technological progress. Nor it is a cloaked allusion to weapon capabilities. It’s sheer mystical flapdoodle. As the BBC and Reuters point out, the Day of the Sun, observed in mid-April, is nothing less than the anniversary of Eternal President Kim Il-Sung, founder of the Kim dynasty, and “sun of our nation.”

(Actually a nom de guerre, the founder’s name means “Become the Sun.”)

To put this claim in context, recall that North Korea has promised to use science and technology to “open the gate to a great, prosperous and powerful country” by 2012, Kim Il-Sung’s centenary.

It doesn’t always pay to take North Korean statements too literally. Back in 2002, facing American accusations about uranium enrichment, senior North Korean diplomat Kang Sok Ju declared that Pyongyang was bound to produce or entitled to possess nuclear weapons and weapons even more powerful than that! (My emphasis.) Which apparently refers not to boosted weapons, a layer-cake design, or hydrogen bombs, but to the “wholehearted unity of the party, the army and the people around General Kim Jong Il.”

(On a related note, see Hee-Seog Kwon’s article in the latest issue of the Bulletin, Negotiating with the North: Doubting its enrichment claims.)

Comments

  1. Ben Douglas (History)

    Hmmmmm,…could this be related to Kim’s visit to China to meet with the Chinese leaders?

  2. Chris Eldridge (History)

    Flapdoodle? Brilliant word!!

  3. Azr@el (History)

    The North claims it has conducted a fusion tests, seems reasonable in of itself. The author assumes the the DPRK means it has mastered cheap plentiful above break even energy from a sustainable fusion reaction and then attacks that claim as ‘balderdash’. Seems a bit of strawman.

    Nuclear fusion is not science fiction. Burning DT or even DD is possible on a hobbyist tabletop set up with a decent vacuum pump and HV unit. I’m sure the Norte Koreanos must be referring to a neutron trigger device; 10^11 neuts/pulse squeezed out from a bit of deuterium and tritium. Just what the doctor ordered to jump start a fission cascade in 2 kg of compressed reactor grade plutonium.

  4. Josh (History)

    Here’s the full text of the KCNA report:

    DPRK Succeeds in Nuclear Fusion
    Pyongyang, May 12 (KCNA) — Scientists of the DPRK succeeded in nuclear fusion reaction on the significant occasion of the Day of the Sun this year, according to Rodong Sinmun Wednesday.
    It goes on:
    The successful nuclear fusion marks a great event that demonstrated the rapidly developing cutting-edge science and technology of the DPRK.
    The nuclear fusion technology is called “artificial solar” technology as it represents a field of the latest science and technology for the development of new energy desired by humankind.
    The nuclear fusion technology for obtaining safe and environment-friendly new energy the source of which is abundant draws great attention of world science at present.
    Scientists of the DPRK have worked hard to develop nuclear fusion technology their own way.
    They solved a great many scientific and technological problems entirely by their own efforts without the slightest hesitation and vacillation even under the conditions where everything was in short supply and there were a lot of difficulties, thus succeeding in nuclear fusion reaction at last.
    In this course, Korean style thermo-nuclear reaction devices were designed and manufactured, basic researches into nuclear fusion reaction completed and strong scientific and technological forces built to perfect the thermo-nuclear technology by their own efforts.
    The successful nuclear fusion in the DPRK made a definite breakthrough toward the development of new energy and opened up a new phase in the nation’s development of the latest science and technology.

  5. MK (History)

    “mystical flapdoodle” — even better.

  6. Bahram Chubin (History)

    Could this be a reference to the mysterious phenomenon often labeled “cold fusion”? Maybe they’ve gotten excess heat in a “cold fusion” experiment?

  7. Seb (History)

    Before trying to divine conclusions about what this might mean for a nuclear programme, South Korea is one of the seven main ITER partners.

    For some reason, working in the international fusion programme has a sort of rough analogue to the space race: a sort of virility test for scientific capabilities. Could it just be waffle to claim to be maintaining parity with South Korea? How much publicity is South Koreas making of it’s ITER participation these days? A few years ago, I do remember they were very, very keen on it.

    As Azr@el says, getting a few neutrons is relatively easy, but that is often enough for unscrupulous PR types to turn what is an interesting science result into “power from the sea” in the imminent future. And that’s in the developed world where people are not even trying to pump the result up to that level.

  8. Max Anderson (History)

    I thought you might like this article. Max

    http://www.chinapost.com.tw/asia/korea/2010/05/13/256308/N-Korea.htm

    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 program.

    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 weaponizing.”

    Yang said he was skeptical 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 fusion reactor KSTAR and other reactors in the world

  9. Nukem (History)

    Chairman Kim is clearly the Fo-Shizzle and hopefully he won’t run into any fu-fizzles with his latest and greatest gift to humanity.

  10. Steve Huntsman
  11. Dr.A.Karlov

    As a physicist, I would not be quick to dismiss any claims made in the advancement of technology, however small you may believe them to be.
    KSTAR and JET have made little progress for nearly fifteen years and neither have the manpower or funding to advance much more quickly given the state of funding for science and technology in the west. Keep in mind that the DPRK do not have the preoccupation of a consumer market…the absence of which, whether it suits you to hear it, works wonders for science and scientists.

  12. Josh (History)

    (The commenter above is referring to fusion research centers in South Korea and the United Kingdom.)

    I could be mistaken, but the North Koreans are not known to have any fusion research center comparable to either of these. (The declaration of nuclear activities they gave to the U.S. would be a good place to look, but it hasn’t been made public.) And regardless of their overall economic priorities, I’m pretty confident that they invest very little in basic research in nuclear physics, given the overall size of their economy and the high priority given to the military.

    I incline to the view that North Korean scientists and engineers are actually more capable than they are usually given credit for. But they aren’t wonder-workers, either, and we should always bear in mind that Rodong Sinmun and KCNA are the mouthpieces of a totalitarian state with a mystical ideology.

    Nor it is really clear what they are claiming in this item. I think it’s really just a series of buzzwords:

    The nuclear fusion technology for obtaining safe and environment-friendly new energy the source of which is abundant draws great attention of world science at present.
    Scientists of the DPRK have worked hard to develop nuclear fusion technology their own way.
    They solved a great many scientific and technological problems entirely by their own efforts without the slightest hesitation and vacillation even under the conditions where everything was in short supply and there were a lot of difficulties, thus succeeding in nuclear fusion reaction at last.
    In this course, Korean style thermo-nuclear reaction devices were designed and manufactured, basic researches into nuclear fusion reaction completed and strong scientific and technological forces built to perfect the thermo-nuclear technology by their own efforts.
    The successful nuclear fusion in the DPRK made a definite breakthrough toward the development of new energy and opened up a new phase in the nation’s development of the latest science and technology.

    Make of that what you will.

  13. Robin van Spaandonk (History)

    This is not CF. Note the use of the term “thermo-nuclear”. More likely is something like focus fusion, which can be done on the sort of budget that NK has available to it.

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