Saturday, May 30, 2009

North Korea's Real Crime

I don't like nuclear weapons, but for all the outrage regarding North Korea's nuclear explosion, nobody seems to have noticed that this week the U.S. celebrated the opening of the $3.5 billion National Ignition Facility. The New York Times described project without mentioning its military purpose, except quoting the project director who "compared the project to feats like going to the Moon, building the atom bomb and inventing the airplane."

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/26/science/26fusi.html?_r=1&ref=science

The NIF is supposed to simulate weapons tests without having to do anything as crude as exploding a bomb underground. Presumably North Korea should be condemned for being too poor to produce this cathedral of death near Berkeley, California.

p.s. I know that the authorities also wish NIF to create fusion power, but I doubt that it would have funding without its military "benefits."

9 comments:

zizban said...

That's some paranoia going on. You any actual evidence for this claim?

Michael Perelman said...

Do you mean about the NIF? A simple Google search should suffice.

Here is the NIF website:

https://lasers.llnl.gov/missions/national_security/stockpile_stewardship.php

Anonymous said...

Couldn't the same thing be said about any high energy physics facility? The first cyclotrons were used to separate uranium isotopes to make the Hiroshima bomb.
Congratulations on that incisive reporting

Bruce Webb said...

As to North Korea a lot of the hysteria over testing seems a little misplaced. To the extent that testing weapons allows them to improve their technology that is of course a bad thing. On the other hand every test diminishes their stockpile of fissile material. I saw an apparently authoritative estimate that prior to the test N. Korea had material for 6-10 bombs. Well after that test they had material for 5-9 bombs. I am not happy that Kim Jong-Il has material for even one bomb but as long as he has it I am just as happy he uses it saber-rattling.

The Bush Administration screwed the pooch, it would have been decades before N. Korea really got Uranium enrichment off the ground in a way that would allow it to build bombs, in the meantime we had a deal that prevented N. Korea from building plutonium bombs. Well oops now they have them. And I can't think of a better way to have them used up than by creating mini-earthquakes under some N. Korean mountain.

And the same goes for missile tests. It is terrible that the N. Korean people have to starve so that the regime can have its big shiny fireworks, but once again given that they exist the more they shoot off the better. I was a Navy Missile Tech at a time when Reagan was throwing billions of dollars at the fleet. Yet we were lucky to shoot off one missile a year. Because an actual missile that can hit things with high degrees of accuracy are expensive. I highly suspect that a 1980 Tartar missile on my ship was more advanced that its N. Korean equivalent today.

A second Korean war would likely be very bloody. It would also be quick. The problem would be the aftermath which in the cold light of day would be the problem of the South Koreans and the Chinese. I don't want a war, no sane person does. But the notion that N. Korea is any substantive way an existential threat to the U.S. is absurd. Most of the time when you parse out what they mean when people claim that N. Korea is developing missile technology that can hit the west coast it turns out they mean Attu in the Aleutians and Kure Attol in the Hawaiian chain. Attu has a population of 20 people, all of them workers at the Coast Guard Loran station, Kure is uninhabited except for the birds and turtles, I really doubt N. Korea wants its leaders palaces and its military bases reduced to rubble in return for a symbolic nuke strike on 'sovereign American soil'.

Sztripi said...

Yes, it paranoia, I am afraid. I am a physicist in Europe by trade. It happens that I personally follow carefully any developments or possible developments of fusion power (it is after all the only hope for the survival of mankind). What NIF is a basically a huge laser. It is built to find out whether lasers can be used to ignite fusion on a commercial basis. There is a lot of excitement around it because if it works fusion is here finally... I cannot see any military application at the moment. On the other hand lasers could be the ultimate weapons. There is no theoretical upper limit for the energy in the beam so planet destroying or better yet galaxy destroying lasers are possible... I think perhaps you were referring to the Z machine. Now that is built especially for military use (some time back) to simulate nuclear detonations. Now that too could be used to produce energy but our material sciences are far from adequate...

Michael Perelman said...

In response to Sztripi, the NIF site clearly describes the military uses.

Of course, fusion power could be a wonderful technology, but then I was hopeful that cold fusion could work.

Sztripi said...

Yes, I stand corrected. It is indeed a site operated for military uses also... No, even worse it is almost exclusively maintained for military research, witch does some civilian research occasionally... So you are absolutely correct...

Cold fusion is not possible according to our present knowledge ... It was a scam unfortunately...

Anonymous said...

...according to our completely "fair balanced and impartial" media, cold fusion is a scam. If cold fusion DID work, then that would mean goodbye to gas, oil, coal and the super clean and efficient (not) nuclear energy we've been using.

I think that if you put 2 & 2 together you will soon see that the human race will be going to "the powers that be" for all of their energy needs for the next few centuries or so. It's called "control"... the world runs on it.

gordon said...

N.Korea has been living under trade restrictions and has been subject to endless abusive tirades from the US and its allies for upwards of 50 years. I (don't) wonder why they are paranoid.

If the US was seriously worried about N.Korea they would lift the blockade and send trade delegations. That's the surest way to bring N.Korea within the ambit of US power. Gee, the US might even outsource nuclear testing there...