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Did North Korea really achieve clean fusion?  (Source: Lee Jin-Man/Associated Press)

Inside the reactor core of one of North Korea's nuclear plants  (Source: AP)
Many scientists are discounting that the secretive dictatorship made a true breakthrough

A mystery is emerging on the Korean peninsula.  The nation of North Korea, which has long been suspected of developing nuclear weapons, announced on May 12 that it had achieved clean nuclear fusion and was ready to began rolling out virtually free power.  The claim did not receive that much serious attention because it was simply so unbelievable.

Now the mystery has deepened, with the South Korean government scientists revealing that they detected abnormal levels of radioactive xenon gas -- eight times above the normal background level -- only two days after the fusion announcement.

It seems highly unlikely that the fusion reaction occurred as North Korea claims as fission typically produces large isotopes, while fusion uses small atoms like deuterium (a hydrogen isotope).  Granted, many scientists have theorized that fission can be tied to fusion to create hybrid reactors and such reactors 
would likely be capable of producing heavy isotopes.

Professor David Hinde, who is the department head of nuclear physics at The Australian National University says the release is more likely to have come from a traditional fission device.  He states, "It would have to be man-generated unless one came up with some very unusual alternative scenario. The lifetime of those radioactive xenon isotopes, they're not terribly long. So it could not be anything that came naturally, I would say.  Heavy xenon isotopes could be a signature of a fission device of some kind."

The easiest explanation would be that North Korea conducted a nuclear weapons test.  It revealed in 2008 that it has several nuclear weapons stockpiled.  However, such a test would have created seismic activity and South Korean officials detected no corresponding seismic events.

Xenon is colorless, odorless, and largely inert noble gas thats found in minute levels in the atmosphere.  The noble gases xenon and krypton are typically used to detect nuclear activity.  The levels of gas detected by South Korea are a clear marker of nuclear activity, but do not pose a health risk to citizens.

North Korea 
did conduct nuclear weapons tests in 2006, which were detected.  It received international condemnation for these tests and UN sanctions.

For now, though, it's unclear exactly what happened in the mysterious nation of North Korea.  While it's highly unlikely the nation has discovered the holy grail of renewable energy, something that has eluded the best researchers in the U.S. and abroad, at this point there are no definitive answers.

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RE: eluded the best researchers
By gamerk2 on 6/24/2010 4:37:22 PM , Rating: 0
Actually, if you factor in the R&D costs, it really isn't a tech worth looking at unless you have a HECK of a lot of cash to burn through. In short: Its not economically viable to research in the private sector. [Hence, an example of Capitalism preventing technological breakthrough]

RE: eluded the best researchers
By wiz220 on 6/24/2010 5:06:44 PM , Rating: 3
You are correct. That is why they are letting the citizens of the civilized world pay for the lion's share of the research (K-Star, ITER, and other reactors). After those projects, have proven the concept, solved all of the problems, and all of the hard, risky work has been done THEN corporations will come in to reap the rewards.

RE: eluded the best researchers
By JediJeb on 6/24/2010 5:43:26 PM , Rating: 5
Fusion like any other power source must be looked at as how much power you get out, versus how much power was put in. Even if you think about coal, is the power output from burning coal more or less than the power of the solar energy used to grow the initial plants and the gravity that caused the pressure from the overlying rock to be enough to turn the organic matter into coal?

The reason the Sun is a self sustaining fusion reactor is because it has the advantage of gravity as its power input source. Here on Earth we need another power source to create conditions favorable for fusion to take place. In the end, does it take more power to generate fusion than what the fusion produces? Even if you pass the break even point of where the Watts coming out surpass the Watts being put in, you need a high ratio to make it feasible. If you get a ratio of say 2 out per 1 in, you are only making a power amplifier not a real power source. This is the whole premise behind the Hydrogen bomb, the fusion of the hydrogen in the blast simply amplifies the power of the fission bomb, without the fission bomb there is no fusion explosion.

I hope some day I am proven wrong, but I just don't see a day coming when we have table top fusion generators being a reality.

RE: eluded the best researchers
By spread on 6/25/2010 9:37:30 AM , Rating: 2
LOL. "Power amplifier"... uhh no. That would be free energy.

Fusion reactors run off various forms of hydrogen and/or helium. They literally fuse the materials together at the atomic level and energy comes out. There's no "power amplification". It burns this fuel for energy.

In order to have a consistent reaction, a very high temperature and pressure must exist. Most popular way to contain this reaction is to use powerful magnetic fields to squeeze everything together and hold it away from the reactor walls which would melt in a few seconds. It's that hot. As you can imagine the magnets suck quite a bit of power.

RE: eluded the best researchers
By JediJeb on 6/25/2010 3:36:29 PM , Rating: 2
I know all about how fusion works, the term power amplifier I used was more or less a layman's term to describe what is happening in the end result.

It takes a great deal of power to make a fusion reaction go and sustain it. In a sense any power you get out of the reaction that is above and beyond the power you put in to create the reaction would be a bonus. It does consume hydrogen or helium so it is not free power, but you are in a simplified term using that fuel to increase the power you are putting into the system thus amplifying it.

A fusion reactor would not really "burn" the hydrogen or helium as fuel, they would act more as a lever to amplify the power put in, since without the power being put in the reaction would not go. If you can make a fusion reactor that takes 1kW of energy per hour to sustain the fusion reaction and you receive out of that reactor 2kW of energy per hour, then you have in a sense amplified your initial energy using hydrogen. But if you stop putting in the energy the reaction ceases. Only if you can somehow use 1kw of energy produced to self sustain the reaction then you would have something workable, but it still takes a large amount of outside energy to start the reactor if ever stopped.

If you really think about it, in the Sun the fuel is hydrogen and the supplied power is gravity. If gravity did not exist the Sun would cease to give off any energy.

RE: eluded the best researchers
By spread on 6/28/2010 9:37:23 AM , Rating: 2
What are you talking about?

There is no POWER AMPLIFICATION. The device uses up fuel. The ENERGY IS PRODUCED FROM THE FUEL used up in the reaction. Right now energy must be supplied externally because he efficiency threshold for the reactor to power itself hasn't been discovered.

In the sun, the supplied power is not gravity, otherwise why is Jupiter not a flaming ball of fire? There's more to fusion than that.

RE: eluded the best researchers
By Jaybus on 6/25/2010 11:53:15 AM , Rating: 2
Absolutely wrong. There is no energy conversion taking place, at least in the traditional sense. It does take considerable energy to force two atomic nuclei close enough together that the attractive nuclear force overcomes the repulsive electrostatic force and achieves fusion. However, when fusion is achieved, the resulting atom has less mass than the sum of the deuterium and tritium atoms that are being fused. That missing mass is missing because it is converted to energy. And in the case of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) being fused into helium, the energy released from the conversion of mass to energy is significantly greater than the energy needed to force the two atoms close enough together to fuse. It is not free energy, it is mass being converted to energy. The energy contained within the mass itself is considerable.

The purpose of the fission reaction in a thermonuclear weapon is to produce a huge x-ray flux, the energy used to force the hydrogen atoms to fuse. A h-bomb uses inertial confinement fusion. The x-rays cause the ablation of the outer layer of a deuterium-tritium mixture. The mass flying out from the DT mixture applies an equal but opposite force to the remaining DT in the form of a shock wave that implodes the DT. The implosion creates conditions of extreme temperature and pressure sufficient to cause a significant amount of the DT to fuse and release a tremendous amount of energy. Much more than was needed to produce the x-rays.

So fusion does not amplify the fission reaction, the fission reaction is the ignition device. That would be like saying a stick of dynamite amplifies the fuse.

RE: eluded the best researchers
By JediJeb on 6/25/2010 3:45:58 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, the term I used in the bomb would be better though of as ignition instead of amplification. Though you still get out a lot more than what you put in, like a blasting cap igniting dynamite( as long as you have a sufficient amount of TNT to give more energy after ignition than the blasting cap has to begin with).

With the reactor though, the moment you turn off the power input, you will cease to have a sustainable fusion reaction because you lose the ability to force the atoms together.

RE: eluded the best researchers
By Penti on 6/24/2010 6:37:34 PM , Rating: 3
Theres a lot of federal money in the US for science. Otherwise not much would get done. Portraying US as the bastion of capitalism is actually kinda retarded the government has ruled so hard there, plenty of companies really just sprung up and survived thanks to military and other government contracts. But heck even next gen fission reactors take really slowly to be developed. You would also need an ridiculous amount of them to replace any coal and oil/gas.

RE: eluded the best researchers
By knutjb on 6/27/2010 6:37:43 PM , Rating: 3
You misunderstand capitalism. By allowing businesses to prosper you then generate the need revenues that allow such research spending.

The vicious circle you describe of gov providing monies to corporations who then return the revenues back in taxes to fund themselves is not a viable model.

Yours, and many others, dismissive belief in capitalism as the engine that got us here is woefully lacking. What socialist or similar type government produced what the US did. Sadly ignorance of what made us great will be our downfall.

How much Fed money did Edison take? That is where capitalism does best.

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