A big leap forward in the development of a working nuclear fusion reactor was made by the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research or KSTAR. Since the early 20th century, unlocking the potential of nuclear fusion has been the dream of scientists, but it has proved to be a tough puzzle to crack. Nuclear fusion, which acts to release energy by merging two atomic nuclei into a larger nucleus, promises to discharge more energy than it absorbs.
A working fusion reactor would, in effect, allow scientists to harness the power of the sun here on Earth, possibly solving the energy needs of the world.
Thanks to the KSTAR superconducting fusion system, which has been dubbed Korea’s artificial sun, researchers in South Korea are now one step closer to realizing this dream.
While not a working reactor, the system sustained a continuous plasma stream for 20 seconds on November 24 of this year, thus reaching an ion temperature of 100 million C.
For contrast, the Sun’s core reaches approximately 15 million C.
The new achievement is the product of scientists working in collaboration with National University (SNU) and Columbia University of the United States at the Research Center at the Korea Institute of Fusion Energy (KFE).
The research initiative has been dubbed the 2020 KSTAR Plasma Campaign and the eight-second plasma activity last year has been beaten.
KSTAR reached a plasma temperature of 100 million C the year before that, but only maintained it for around 1.5 seconds.
And four years ago, KSTAR set another world record in December 2016 when it ran at temperatures of about 50 million C for 70 seconds.
The fiery fusion responses that occur in the Sun, but here on Earth, are recreated by Tokamak devices like KSTAR.
There are some 250 tokamak systems around the globe, according to the Institute for Radiological Security and Nuclear Safety (IRSN).
The Russian word “toroïdalnaïa kameras magnitnymi katushkami” or “toroidal chamber with magnetic coils” is an acronym for tokamak.
The first scientists to achieve plasma confinement and high temperatures in such a system were two Russian researchers in the late 1960s.
The KSTAR system uses hydrogen isotopes to create a scorching plasma stream where individual ions and electrons are isolated – one of the four fundamental states of matter.
It is important to sustain extremely high temperatures in order to hold onto the ions.
Although KSTAR is not the first system to exceed 100 million C plasma temperatures, it is the first to operate for more than 10 seconds.
Anything more than 10 seconds and normal-conducting devices exceed their limit of operation.
KSTAR resolved some of these problems this year by overcoming one of its modes of plasma activity, the Internal Transport Barrier (ITB).