(ORDO NEWS) — This week, Korea’s Artificial Sun Reactor made headlines by officially keeping plasma at 100 million degrees Celsius for over 20 seconds.
The Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) team of researchers has achieved ion temperatures above 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit).
According to New Scientist , the reaction was only stopped after 30 seconds because of hardware limitations.
KSTAR uses magnetic fields to generate and stabilize superhot plasma with the ultimate goal of making nuclear fusion a reality.
You can see in the footage below how the reactor runs for 24 seconds and reaches a temperature of over 10 ^ 8 Kelvin, which is more or less equivalent to 100 million degrees Celsius.
One of the KSTAR cuts Archers Yong-Su Na told New Scientist’s Matthew Sparks that longer periods of time are possible in the future after a device update.
This is an exciting achievement for good reason – a potentially unlimited source of clean energy that could change the way we feed our lives if we can make it work as intended.
But it’s also worth noting that this KSTAR achievement isn’t necessarily a new record. as advertised by some media.
In fact, KSTAR announced this breakthrough back in 2020 and we were reporting it at the time. What has changed now is that their research paper has been peer-reviewed and has just been published in Nature.
However, over the years, the KSTAR team has broken their own rules. record, and the Chinese “artificial Sun” known as EAST (Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak or HT-7U) broke both of these records.
In 2021, the fusion machine of the Chinese Academy of Sciences reached 120 million degrees Celsius (216 million degrees Fahrenheit) and clung to it for 101 seconds.
That doesn’t mean that KSTAR’s achievement is still not huge and worth sharing and celebrating.
Prior to this breakthrough, the 100 million degree threshold had not been breached for more than 10 seconds.
“The technologies needed to run a plasma at 100 million degrees for a long time are the key to realizing fusion power,” said nuclear physicist Xi-Wu Yun, director of the KSTAR Research Center at the Korea Fusion Energy Institute (KFE), back in 2020.
“KSTAR’s success in maintaining a high temperature plasma for 20 seconds will be a major turning point in the race to secure technologies for long-term high-performance plasma operation, a critical component of the commercial nuclear fusion reactor of the future.”
The key to jumping to 20 seconds was upgrading to Internal Transport Barrier (ITB) modes inside KSTAR. These modes are not fully understood by scientists, but at the most basic level, they help control the retention and stability of fusion reactions.
KSTAR is a tokamak-type reactor similar to the one recently launched in China, combining atomic nuclei to create such a huge amount of energy (as opposed to the nuclear fission used in power plants, which splits atomic nuclei apart).
Fusion devices like KSTAR use hydrogen isotopes to create a plasma state in which ions and electrons are separated, ready to be heated the same fusion reactions that take place in the Sun, hence the nickname these reactors have been given.
So far, maintaining temperatures high enough for a long enough period of time for the technology to become viable has proven to be a challenge.
Scientists will need to break more such records in order for nuclear fusion to work as an energy source, consuming little more than sea water (a source of hydrogen isotopes) and producing minimal waste.
Despite all the work that needs to be done to make these reactors produce more energy than they consume, the progress is encouraging. By 2025, KSTAR engineers want to exceed 100 million degrees in 300 seconds.
“The ion temperature of 100 million degrees, achieved by efficiently heating the core plasma for such a long time, demonstrated the unique capabilities of the KSTAR superconducting device and will be recognized as a convincing basis for high-performance steady-state fusion plasma,” said nuclear physicist Yang-Sok Pak from Columbia university in 2020.
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