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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 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.

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