“Artificial sun” reaches 100 million degrees for 48 seconds


The Korean KSTAR nuclear fusion reactor broke its previous record by maintaining a temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius for 48 seconds. For this achievement, the “artificial Sun” received an update to its magnetic components, which could consolidate itself as a new “piece” for the search for clean nuclear energy.

Photo: KNFRI / Canaltech

In several places around the world, scientists are working on nuclear fusion experiments in an attempt to achieve energy production greater than the consumption required to operate the reactors.

In South Korea, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) reactor has been one of the main bets, with some records set. In 2022, he managed to maintain a temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius for 30 seconds — a milestone at the time.

Now, scientists have announced that they managed to maintain the same temperature for 48 seconds, between December 2023 and February 2024. This advance was possible due to improvements in plasma heating systems and temperature control techniques.

Tokamak reactor

KSTAR is a tokamak-type reactor, that is, it uses a strong magnetic field to confine the plasma inside a torus-shaped structure. By heating a “fuel”, usually by firing a laser beam at a quantity of an isotope of hydrogen gas, a plasma hotter than the Sun is produced.

Plasma is a state of matter in which electrons detach from atomic nuclei, thus allowing nuclear fusion. Because free electrical particles are susceptible to magnetic fields, tokamaks use giant magnets around the torus to confine the plasma.

When the plasma is successfully confined in the center of the chamber, without particle dispersion and without contact with the internal walls of the structure, the reactor avoids temperature loss. Thus, it is possible to maintain millions of degrees Celsius for several seconds.

Inside the KSTAR vacuum chamber (Image: Reproduction/Korea Institute of Fusion Energy (KFE))

Photo: Canaltech

From there, it is relatively simple to convert heat energy into electrical energy, which is the main goal of scientists. A great attraction of the nuclear reaction is that it is considered the cleanest and safest as it does not leave carbon emissions.

Advancements in KSTAR

Researchers at the Korean Institute of Fusion Energy (KFE) report that the new time of 48 seconds is due to the use of tungsten instead of carbon in the “diverters”, the magnetic component fundamental to extracting heat and avoiding impurities produced by the fusion reaction. .

With this change, the diverters provided a 25% increase in surface temperature under similar heat loads. Si-Woo Yoon, Director of the KSTAR Research Center, said that “although it is the first experiment carried out in the environment of the new tungsten diverters, thorough hardware testing and campaign preparation allowed us to achieve results that surpass those of previous records.”

The Koreans’ goal is to maintain higher temperatures for 300 seconds, which will require the installation of additional tungsten components and real-time feedback control. They will also use artificial intelligence to improve device performance.

Source: EurekAlert, CNN

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