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I have a story where world finds out that North Koreans have built a fusion power plant that produces 4 gigawatts of electricity (*) and they don't reveal it's existence, for unknown reasons they don't want to boast about superiority of Juche. It's unimportant to me how they built it, what I need to know how the world detects it without North Koreans spilling the beans. The story is told from the point of the world which is kept in dark. No defectors with knowledge about the plant is accessible to the journalists, spy agencies etc.

I placed this in North Korea because they're a closest thing to information black hole in this world and still have functional government. So please no hacking, defectors or careless public sources. The knowledge about plant is kept secret as the death of the previous dear leader.

Would there be some kind of radiation or some other clue that would tip us off?

(*) The number of 4 gigawatts is arbitrary, any usable amount would do if that changes something

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closed as off-topic by Hohmannfan, John Dallman, Skye, Mołot, Thucydides Oct 16 '16 at 4:02

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – Hohmannfan, John Dallman, Skye, Mołot, Thucydides
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ If you could frame this in terms of creating a story, it would be on-topic. But it is extremely implausible that North Korea could build a fusion plant that gave useful amounts of power, and even less plausible that they would do so without boasting about it. $\endgroup$ – John Dallman Oct 15 '16 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ Usually this would be done by humint (human intelligence) or spies, defectors, careless North Koreans or plain old-fashioned tracking through public sources (this is 90% of all espionage). Then there is elint (electronic intelligence) and this is most likely to be cyber snooping or hacking North Korean computers. Most States like USA, PRC, UK, and what-not have extensive cyber espionage units. It will be hacked. $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 15 '16 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ By watching the telecast where the chubby dictator tells us he has a fusion plant. $\endgroup$ – Helmar Oct 15 '16 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ They are a backwards medieval country that has no electric light. How can they have nuclear gadgets? $\endgroup$ – Luís Henrique Oct 15 '16 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ @LuísHenrique Well they made a nuclear bomb and a space program, so there's some sort of precident of scientific advancement. $\endgroup$ – JamEngulfer Oct 15 '16 at 18:08
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Americans have spy satellites which examine infrared radiation. The upper limit for converting energy into work is the Carnot cycle. The heat limit for refrigeration components from melting is at least thousand Fahrenheit, probably. So at the very least, 5% of all heat will be wasted... and it will be apparent that it is being wasted.

Of course nuclear fusion has only proven to provide enough energy to power itself in the labs.

Now as to how the US can detect fission power... well. It requires the nation to purchase nuclear materials. And a big nuclear looking building with a lot of cooling.

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    $\begingroup$ This sounds like the most reasonable answer, and the first thing I thought of. A big nuclear looking building can be built underground, with the cooling connected to a big lake? And nuclear materials, well, if they can't manufacture and extract what the need locally, maybe it's possible to strike up deals with someone who doesn't want USA to know.. $\endgroup$ – pipe Oct 15 '16 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @pipe Doesn't work. The lake will be unseasonally warm every year. Perhaps even boiling given the size of your single fusion plant. Excavating dirt to build an underground building will also be noticeable, as dirt as to go somewhere. $\endgroup$ – user3201068 Oct 15 '16 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ Although even more implausible than the DPRK building a fusion reactor, more advanced Aneutronic fusion reactors emit power ae a charged beam of alpha particles, which can be harvested at a very high rate of efficiency, bypassing the Carnot cycle. Still, depending on what sort of fusion reactor is being described, there are plenty of emissions, ranging from excess neutron production to x-ray emissions to massive amounts of waste heat. And satellite photos will show the infrastructure to deliver the electrical energy to the grid (transformers and high voltage power lines, for example). $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 16 '16 at 3:57
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By the effects on the grid

All electricity production in NK is 224 TWh your plant will add 35 TWh more, it's impossible that nobody in the grid won't notice, if the grid could cope at all without significant improvement. You can't hide such a large producer. When one plant goes down or closes for annual refurbishment the operator must synchronize the rest of the producers. Even if they control everybody who works Kim Yong fusion plant, they must coordinate with the rest of national electricity company.

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    $\begingroup$ They're not hiding it from themselves. Note that it's "North Koreans have built". $\endgroup$ – pipe Oct 15 '16 at 18:02
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We figure it out by the waste helium.

Hydrogen - tritium fusion releases 4He, a neutron, and energy. 4He is ordinary, stable helium—the most common isotope, and it normally outnumbers the 2nd most common (3He) by about a million to one. There are two things that would aid detection:

  1. Helium is lighter (less dense) than air. It rises.
  2. Helium is quite rare.

For both points, aerial "weather balloons" released by nearby nations could be rigged to monitor helium concentrations near North Korea (it's not even necessary to fly over North Korea, as prevailing winds will push the helium around to some extent). Detecting more helium than baseline would be a simple method that would strongly point to a functioning fusion reactor in North Korea. Analyzing the isotopes is somewhat harder, but could provide additional evidence, if one finds far more 4He than the normal ratio with 3He.

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    $\begingroup$ Do we normally look for excess helium? $\endgroup$ – pipe Oct 15 '16 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ You're assuming that they would simply release the helium. But if memory serves it's actually pretty valuable- perhaps they would capture and sell it. $\endgroup$ – Puppy Oct 15 '16 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ Hydrogen and tritium fuse to produce a helium-4 and a neutron (plus energy)? Where'd the neutron come from? $\endgroup$ – EvilSnack Oct 15 '16 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ The main point of fusion reactors is that they use a fuel that's available in the entire Universe, produce no dangerous waste, and a shitload of power. Using a low mass of input matter doesn't really rank. $\endgroup$ – Puppy Oct 15 '16 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ Assuming that the helium spreads over an area of 100 sq km, (the balloon would have to get really really close to measure it) there is around 0.2% (% of total earth surface area) * 5 * 10^18 kg (total atmosphere mass) * 0.0005% (percent which is helium) * (1/million which is 4He) = 52400 kilograms of natural 4He already, so no fusion plant could ever make a measurable difference in that. (and this is with really conservative estimates for how widely the helium spreads). $\endgroup$ – zzz Oct 15 '16 at 20:40
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This is a very interesting topic even if the source of power wasn't a type of fusion but a breakthrough in coal power. North Korea has for years suffered from electrical power insufficiency. An economist or group like the IEA (International Energy Agency) would probably first suspect something is going on by seeing a shift in supply of electrical power but a decrease in demand for coal and hydro power, he/she/they would also include in this study/report about increases in the amount of light that is visible at night from the international space station and other artificial satellites.

Here are what I would consider the biggest signals of fusion power happening after I had read the economic report:

1) There would be infrastructure built to accommodate for the large amount of radiated heat.

2) A spike in the demand for Lithium

3) Spikes in detection of Hydrogen 3 production (there may be a fission reactor used to produce Hydrogen 3 but hiding as a power plant)

4) Suspicious looking repositories for the waste

North Korea would most likely do more to allow other countries like China and South Korea to invest in it's economy in order to maintain its now most valuable resource. They would probably see an economic boom like it did in 1999 maybe better.

More interesting to me would be how it would hide the technology. I would suspect they would export a little of that power to China as well. So even if China didn't know that North Korea had fusion power, it would know that North Korea has an excess of electrical power.

For starters try:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_North_Korea#Power_and_energy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isotopes_of_lithium#Lithium-6

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