DPRK's nuke fusion claims based more on politics

By Ai Yang and Zhong Nan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-05-13 07:33
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Pyongyang's announcement based more on politics than scientific significance: Experts

Beijing - Pyongyang said on Wednesday it has successfully produced a nuclear fusion reaction - a claim doubted by many - while Chinese experts believe the political significance of the announcement far outweighs its scientific value.

Rodong Sinmum, the official newspaper of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), said the technology is for "obtaining safe and environment-friendly new energy".

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"The successful nuclear fusion marks a great event that demonstrates the rapidly developing cutting-edge science and technology," it said.

The paper also said the success coincided with the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the DPRK's late founder, on April 15.

Laboratory demonstrations of nuclear fusion reactions are not new but if carried out in real fields - something the world's scientists are still striving for - it could provide a tremendous supply of clean energy and leave little radioactive residue.

"In terms of science and the military, the news doesn't have much value because it can't be verified," said Zhang Liangui, an expert on Korean affairs at the Party School of the Central Committee of Communist Party of China in Beijing.

Zhang said in light of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference that is taking place in New York and the visit of DPRK leader Kim Jong-il to China, Pyongyang wants to show the world its ambition to be a nuclear power.

"Despite what China really thinks, the world now thinks it's behind its neighbor. But to announce the nuclear success - not before but rather after Kim's China visit - has shown that the DPRK is not softening at all," Zhang said.

The DPRK has been urged many times by different sides to return to the stalled Six-Party Talks with the US, China, Japan, Russia and the Republic of Korea (ROK). Kim said in Beijing last week that Pyongyang would like to create favorable conditions to discuss the resumption of talks. However, the situation became more complicated when in March an ROK ship sunk near the sea border with the DPRK, which has now become a major suspect amid ongoing investigations and speculation.

"Now Pyongyang wants to attract the US's and ROK's attention because they have said resumption now depends on the result of the investigation," said Jin Canrong, associate dean of the school of international relations at Renmin University. Jin said having mastered the technology to conduct nuclear fusion reactions - if true - means that the DPRK also has the potential capability to produce nuclear weapons.

But ROK's Yonhap News quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official telling reporters that its neighbor lacks the intelligence and money for such technologically-demanding projects. The official also reportedly said that Pyongyang's nuclear fusion experiments, if confirmed to be true, could in a broad sense be tantamount to a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1874, which demands the country halt its nuclear weapons programs and conduct no further nuclear or missile tests.

"A nuclear fusion reaction is not something that can be done so simply. It's very difficult," the Associated Press quoted Hyeon Park, a physics professor at Postech, a top science and technology university in ROK, as saying. It also cited an official handling nuclear fusion at the ROK's Ministry of Education, Science and Technology as saying DPRK scientists appeared to have conducted only a basic experiment. The official said the fusion has nothing to do with making nuclear bombs.

Current nuclear energy is generated by fission through splitting atoms, but world scientists now aim to demonstrate by 2030 that atoms can be fused together inside a reactor to efficiently produce electricity. A seven-nation nuclear fusion consortium including the ROK, China, the EU, Japan, Russia, India and the US are working to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in southern France by 2015 for such a purpose.