The KSTAR exceeded 100 million degrees Celsius for thirty seconds. (Image Credit: Korea Institute of Fusion Energy)
A South Korean nuclear fusion reactor called the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) achieved temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius for thirty seconds. The latest experiment, performed by researchers from Seoul National University and the Korea Institute of Fusion Energy, brings humanity one step closer to nuclear fusion energy.
The plasma inside the reactor must be controlled to prevent it from contacting the walls. Otherwise, it quickly cools down, stifling the reaction and severely damaging the chamber. Different designs of magnetic fields are often deployed to hold the plasma. For example, an edge transport barrier (ETB) prevents the plasma from being released by shaping it with a sharp pressure cut-off close to the wall. Meanwhile, other reactors feature an internal transport barrier (ITB) to generate high pressure close to the plasma’s center.
The team deployed a modified ITB in the KSTAR to reach a lower plasma density. This technique increased temperatures at the plasma’s core while decreasing temperatures at the edge. It also has the potential to make reactor components last longer. Overall, the low density and fast-ion-regulated enhancement (FIRE) help provide stability within the reactor. However, the team is still looking into how the mechanisms work.
Hardware limitations made it impossible for the team to continue running the reactor beyond 30 seconds. They also claim it can surpass that time in the future. The team is upgrading KSTAR by replacing the wall’s carbon components with tungsten, enhancing the reactor’s ability to reproduce experiments. The Korea Institute of Energy wants to achieve plasma temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius for 50 seconds by the end of this year. They also want to reach 300 seconds by 2026.
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