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Terrorism & Security

North Korea claims successful nuclear fusion test

Turning nuclear fusion into a viable energy source has long eluded the world, but North Korea on Wednesday claimed success. Analysts are dubious and say the claim likely meant for leverage in six-party talks.

By Correspondent / May 12, 2010

A South Korean woman passes by a diagram showing the theory of nuclear fusion reactor at the Seoul Science Park in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday. North Korea said Wednesday that its scientists succeeded in nuclear fusion reaction, a technology that some hope will one day provide a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.

Lee Jin-man/AP

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North Korea says it has successfully achieved nuclear fusion, an efficient yet difficult-to-control technique for creating power. But experts doubt the claim, noting that even the world's most advanced countries have yet to successfully harness fusion as a power source, and North Korea lacks the technology and resources to fulfill even its basic electrical power needs.

Pyongyang announced the creation of a "Korean style" thermonuclear reaction Wednesday in state-controlled media.

"The successful nuclear fusion marks a great event that demonstrated the rapidly developing cutting-edge science and technology of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea]," wrote Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling communist party, as quoted by Agence France-Presse. The Rodong Sinmun said the North's experts had worked hard to develop the "safe and environment-friendly new energy" technology.

BBC News notes that controlled laboratory demonstrations of nuclear fusion are not uncommon, but that North Korea appears to be claiming something more than that, as Pyongyang mentions having created a "unique thermo-nuclear reaction device." Nuclear fusion generates heat when two atomic nuclei fuse together. Research has been conducted into creating power with fusion for over 50 years.

Unlike the fission reaction used in all nuclear power plants -- which generates energy when an atom's nucleus is split apart -- there is less risk of dangerous uncontrolled nuclear reactions with a fusion reactor and the radioactive waste one would generate would have a much shorter half-life than that produced by fission reactions. That makes it attractive from both an environmental and safety standpoint, but so far commercial reactors have eluded researchers, because the conditions to produce fusion must be tightly controlled and maintained.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry official, speaking anonymously to Yonhap News, called the claim "absurd," and said South Korean intelligence indicated North Korea lacked the resources to make such a technological leap. Yonhap also cited experts on North Korea, who say that the claim is likely meant to give Pyongyang more leverage in the six-nation nuclear talks with China, Japan, Russia, the United States, and the two Koreas.

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