North Korea has once again stunned the world by now making the claim that it has made a commercially viable alternative energy source using Nuclear Fusion. Of course this is being met with extreme skepticism as North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world, and has had very limited success in developing any ground-breaking technology in the past 50 years.
On the other hand, though the claim seems outrageous, North Korea has been underestimated in the nuclear sector before. In 2006 North Korea claimed to have tested its first nuclear warhead, which coincided with a 4.2 magnitude Earthquake which seismographs picked up in Japan. This claim was later joined by another test in 2009 which was likewise confirmed by seismologists and estimated to have come from the same point. In April of that year reports confirmed that Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the IAEA believed along with others that North Korea had a working nuclear arsenal. With North Korea’s weapons straining to keep up with the rest of what its leader Kim Jung Il views as a hostile world, it seems the only way North Korea could have stumbled on Nuclear Fusion would have been purely by accident. And the odds against that are, according to most experts, astronomical.
Nuclear fusion as a power source is derived from the power generated when two light atomic nuclei fuse and form a heavier nucleus. It is in many regards the converse of nuclear fission, where a slow moving neutron is absorbed into a Uranium 235 atom and therefore splits quickly away. Most systems for both nuclear fission and fusion look at the heat generated by these reactions as the power generation method. The heat increases the temperature of water until it turns to steam and rises, then the turbine interacts with magnets which generate the electricity. Other methods have been proposed for converting energy directly into electricity, but there are few known ways to do this at the moment. And of the few that are known, none have been mastered to make them both cost effective, safe, and produce enough energy to make the system viable as an energy alternative.
Nuclear Fission has been long considered one of the Holy Grails of energy and alternative fuel production. Many have theorized a sufficiently large nuclear fusion reaction could power the entire world rather than a small city. And with development coming along all the time for new technologies it is possible that we may one day see this very power concept becoming a reality within our lifetimes, but without more than a claim by North Korea’s own internal media that such a discovery has been made it is doubtful any international policy will be made that assumes this statement is anything more than a simple fabrication designed to placate the citizens of North Korea.
Nuclear fusion is, however, an exciting concept. If we were to find a way to harness a nuclear fusion reaction from hydrogen into a power source, we would be working with limitless power. And with limitless power, we would be essentially removing one of the greatest problems from Earth next to space and food production.