Last month, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) device, a nuclear fusion reactor known as an “artificial sun”, maintained plasma for an incredible 20 seconds at a temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius. Is it one of the main conditions for nuclear fusion?
KSTR’s progress is staggering. It first reached 100 million degrees Celsius in 2018 but only for 1.5 seconds. In 2019 it was stretched to 8 seconds. It has more than doubled now. No device capable of producing this hot (or hot) plasma has been able to hold it for more than 10 seconds.
The record-breaking achievement was possible for the newly developed internal transport barrier mode. Researchers believe they will be able to achieve 300 seconds of ion temperature here over the next five years. An important goal in the future is the development of commercial nuclear fusion reactors.
“The technologies required for the long-term operation of 100 million-degree plasma are key to the realization of fusion energy,” said Si-Woo Yoon, director of the KSTR Research Center at the Korea Institute of Fusion Energy. “KSTR’s success in maintaining high-temperature plasma for 20 seconds will be an important turning point in the technology safety competition for long high-performance plasma operations, a key component of commercial nuclear fusion reactors.
The KSTR run began in August and continued until December 10. The team conducted a total of 110 plasma tests to test the device’s capabilities, including plasma injection and stabilization methods and techniques. The experiment was conducted in collaboration with domestic and international partners.
South Korea is a member of ITER (mainly an international thermonuclear reactor), an engineering mega-project that will be the largest nuclear fusion reactor ever built. Its goal is to prove that it is possible to create a device that can express more energy through atomic synthesis (in a controlled manner), rather than creating the conditions to fuse light atoms in the first place.
Tests conducted with KSTR are important to inform about the development of ITER, which should start in 2025. The results of the 2020 KSTR are expected to be presented at the IAEA Fusion Energy Conference in May 2021. The joke is that nuclear fusion is always 20 years away but such progress over the last decade really shows how far the field has come.