Scientists have set a new world record for high-temperature plasma, reaching ion temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit) for a 20-second period with a Korea Superconducting TalkMac Advanced Research (KSTAR) device.
Known as Korea’s “artificial sun”, KSTAR uses magnetic fields to generate and stabilize ultra-hot plasma with the ultimate goal of making nuclear fusion power a reality – a potentially unlimited source of clean energy that could transform our way of life. , If we can make it work as intended.
Prior to this point, the 100 million degree breach had not occurred for more than 10 seconds, so it is a significant improvement over previous efforts – even if we still have a long way to go before we can fully explore other sources of energy. At this point, nuclear fusion power remains a possibility, not a certainty.
Nuclear physicist Si-woo Yun, director of the KSTAR research center at the Korea Institute of Fusion Energy (KFE), says, “The technology needed for the long-term operation of 100 million-degree plasmas is the key to realizing fusion energy.”
“KSTAR’s success in maintaining high-temperature plasma for 20 seconds, a critical component of future commercial nuclear fusion reactors, will be a turning point in the race to secure technologies for long high-performance plasma operation.”
The key to jumping for 20 seconds was an upgrade to KSTAR’s internal transport barrier (ITB) modes. These conditions are not fully understood by scientists, but at the simplest level they help control the range and stability of atomic fusion reactions.
KSTAR is a talkmack-style reactor, similar to the one that went online recently in China, as the atom merges nuclei to create this energy energy in abundance.
Although the scientific work to achieve it is complex, progress has been steady. KSTAR first broke the 100 million-degree limit in 2018, and managed to maintain the temperature for 8 seconds in 2019. Now, it has more than doubled.
“The success of the KSTAR experiment in long, high-temperature operation overcoming some of the shortcomings of ITB modes brings us one step closer to the development of technologies for the realization of nuclear fusion energy,” says Yong-su Na, a nuclear physicist. Seoul National University (SNU).
Fusion devices such as KSTAR use hydrogen isotopes to create a plasma state where ions and electrons separate, ready for heat – the same fusion reactions that occur in the sun, hence the name of these reactors.
Yet, maintaining high temperatures for long periods of time has proved challenging to streamline technology. Scientists need to break more records like this for nuclear fusion to act as a nuclear source – running a little farther than seawater (a source of hydrogen isotopes) and producing minimal waste.
Despite all the work these reactors have put forward to produce more than their consumption, progress has been encouraging. By 2025, engineers at KSTAR want to cross the 100 million-degree mark for a period of 300 seconds.
“Enabling efficient core plasma heating for such a long period of time demonstrates the unique capability of a 100 million-degree ion temperature superconducting KSTAR device, and will be accepted as an attractive base for high-performance, stable state fusion plasma,” says Atomic. Physicist Young-Seok Park.
The findings of the experiment are yet to be published in a peer-reviewed paper, but are being shared at the 2021 IAEA Fusion Energy Reza Conference.