North Korea Says Nuclear Fusion Reaction Produced

Aspiring nuclear power North Korea claimed today that it was able to conduct a nuclear fusion reaction, a process that could be used to produce energy or a hydrogen bomb, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, May 11).

The state-run Rodong Sinmun did not say whether the fusion reaction, which no other nuclear program has yet successfully turned toward energy production, would be put to use in the country’s nuclear weapons program.

“The successful nuclear fusion marks a great event that demonstrated the rapidly developing cutting-edge science and technology of the D.P.R.K.,” the report asserted.

To achieve the reaction, “Korean-style thermonuclear reaction devices were designed and manufactured, basic researches into nuclear fusion reaction completed and strong scientific and technological forces built to perfect the thermonuclear technology,” said the report (Agence France-Presse I/Australian, May 12).

South Korea was skeptical today of the North’s nuclear fusion claim, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

An anonymous Foreign Ministry official told the Yonhap News Agency that Pyongyang’s assertion was “absurd” and said there was no evidence that the impoverished nation possessed the expensive nuclear infrastructure required to conduct fusion tests.

Should North Korea be telling the truth, though, it would have breached U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, which prohibits Pyongyang from carrying out additional missile or nuclear tests, the official said (Xinhua News Agency, May 12).

The Stalinist regime, which is severely lacking in electricity generation capacity, compared the fusion reaction to an “artificial sun,” Reuters reported.

“Maybe if two suns show up in the sky tomorrow, then people could believe the claim,” Seoul National University nuclear expert Kune Suh said.

“This seems highly inaccurate and grossly exaggerated,” he said. “They probably conducted some small-scale experiment” (Herskovitz/Kim, Reuters, May 11).

The reaction was said to be conducted in honor of the April birthday of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, which is now a holiday known as the “Day of the Sun.” Pyongyang regularly makes questionable claims on days recognizing Kim or his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, the Associated Press reported.

Hyeon Park, a physics professor who works on fusion research in the South, said North Korea could have successfully built a plasma device and generated a hot mass of supercharged particles, which is one of the first steps n to create a nuclear fusion reaction.

To judge the validity of the assertion, foreign scientists would require information on the scope of the North’s fusion test and the steps it took to create the plasma, Park said (Kwang-Tae Kim, Associated Press/Google News, May 12).

Meanwhile, Washington’s lead negotiator for the multilateral talks aimed at ending the North’s nuclear weapons work, Sung Kim, was in South Korea today for talks with his South Korean counterpart, AFP reported. The talks also involve China, Japan and Russia.

Seoul’s deputy foreign minister and deputy defense chief are set to travel to Washington tomorrow for talks about matters on the Korean Peninsula and nuclear concerns, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said (Agence France-Presse II/Google News, May 12).