Korea's Fusion Reactor Ran 7 Times Hotter Than The Sun For Almost 30 Seconds


Korea's 'artificial Sun' reactor has made headlines this week by officially sustaining plasma at a temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius for more than 20 seconds.The team at the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) device reached an ion temperature of above 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit).

The reaction was only halted after 30 seconds due to hardware constraints, claims New Scientist. KSTAR creates and maintains ultra-hot plasma using magnetic fields with the eventual goal of realizing nuclear fusion power. You may watch a video of the reactor operating for more than 24 seconds and reaching a temperature of more than 108 Kelvin, or around 100 million degrees Celsius, below.

Longer times should be conceivable in the future after improvements to the gadget, according to Yong-Su Na, one of the KSTAR researchers, who spoke to Matthew Sparkes of New Scientist. This is an amazing accomplishment for good reason—if we can get it to function as planned, it might be a limitless supply of clean energy that would revolutionize the way we power our lives.

However, despite what some media outlets are reporting, this KSTAR advancement isn't necessarily a new record. In reality, this innovation was first disclosed by KSTAR in 2020, and we covered it at the time. What has changed is that their research work has just been published in Nature after being subjected to peer review.

The KSTAR team has now beaten their own record, but China's EAST (Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak or HT-7U) has since surpassed both of those. Fusion technology developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences hit 120 million degrees Celsius (216 million degrees Fahrenheit) in 2021 and held onto that temperature for 101 seconds.

That doesn't mean the KSTAR accomplishment isn't still significant and deserving of sharing and celebration. Before this discovery, it had been more than 10 seconds since the temperature of 100 million degrees had been exceeded. The key to achieving fusion energy, according to nuclear physicist Si-Woo Yoon, director of the KSTAR Research Centre at the Korea Institute of Fusion Energy (KFE), is developing the technologies needed for sustained operations of 100 million-degree plasma.

In the race to secure the technologies for the long high-performance plasma operation, a crucial component of a commercial nuclear fusion reactor in the future, the KSTAR's accomplishment in maintaining the high-temperature plasma for 20 seconds will be a significant turning point.

An improvement to the Internal Transport Barrier (ITB) modes inside the KSTAR, which on a basic level aid to manage the confinement and stability of the nuclear fusion reactions, was crucial to the jump to 20 seconds.

In contrast to nuclear fission, which is used in power plants and splits atomic nuclei apart, the KSTAR is a tokamak-style reactor that merges atomic nuclei to produce these enormous amounts of energy. Fusion devices like the KSTAR use hydrogen isotopes to create a plasma state where ions and electrons are separated, ready for heating - the same fusion reactions that happen on the Sun, hence the nickname these reactors have been given.

Scientists will need to break more records like these for nuclear fusion to work as a power source - running off little more than seawater (a source of hydrogen isotopes) and producing little waste - as it has proven difficult to sustain high temperatures for a long enough period of time for the technology to be viable.

The engineers at KSTAR aspire to have exceeded the 100 million-degree mark for a duration of 300 seconds by 2025, despite all the work that needs to be done to get these reactors to produce more energy than they consume.

According to nuclear physicist Young-Seok Park of Columbia University, "the 100 million-degree ion temperature achieved by enabling efficient core plasma heating for such a long duration demonstrated the unique capability of the superconducting KSTAR device, and will be acknowledged as a compelling basis for high performance, steady state fusion plasmas."

Reference: research nature

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