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NUCLEAR FUSION

A new world record is set for stable nuclear fusion operation

Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) succeeds in maintaining high-temperature plasma for 20 seconds

Almost one year ago, I wrote about how China was endeavoring to make 2020 the year when it achieves nuclear fusion via its artificial sun — called the HL-2M Tokamak. The production of stable nuclear fusion energy has been a pipe dream for scientists. This complex process takes place naturally on our sun, which produces limitless amounts of sustainable energy. However, the process of joining two lighter atomic nuclei to form a heavier nucleus releases massive amounts of energy and the process is unstable and difficult to control.

Earlier in 2019 summer, Physicists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison created a “Mini Sun” to better understand the processes going on on our star. While projects like the HL-2M Tokamak project are trying to generate nuclear fusion energy by heating deuterium-tritium (two types of hydrogen) to insanely hot temperatures like 100 million degrees, others like HB-11 energy intend to create an unlimited source of clean, safe & reliable energy by using fuels that are abundant in nature, without producing radioactive waste.

Nonetheless, the end goal for all these projects is the same — producing sustainable & more importantly stable nuclear fusion reactions. Chinese project mentioned above, powered up its “artificial sun” or the nuclear fusion reactor for the first time last month, marking the next step in the country’s nuclear power research capabilities.

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“The success of the KSTAR experiment in the long, high-temperature operation by overcoming some drawbacks of the ITB modes brings us a step closer to the development of technologies for the realization of nuclear fusion energy.”

~Yong-Su Na, Lead Researcher

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In another significant development, Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR), also known as the Korean artificial sun created a new world record in a nuclear fusion reaction. KSTAR in collaboration with the Seoul National University (SNU) and Columbia University of the United States succeeded in the continuous operation of plasma for 20 seconds with a temperature higher than 100 million degrees.

This is a major improvement over the 8-second plasma operation achieved during the 2019 KSTAR Plasma Campaign. Previously, KSTAR had scored a retention time of 1.5 seconds in its inaugural attempt in 2018. None of the current nuclear fusion devices have achieved a retention time of over 10 seconds at 100 million degrees — so this is the World’s first.

KSTAR achieved this by improving the performance of the Internal Transport Barrier (ITB) mode. ITB is one of the next generation plasma operation modes developed last year, which succeeded in maintaining the plasma state for a long period of time — overcoming the existing limitation of such a reaction.

The research organization eventually plans to conduct a total of 110 plasma experiments that include high-performance plasma operation and plasma disruption mitigation experiments, with domestic & overseas collaboration. KSTAR plans to share all the work done with global researchers, with the eventual goal of succeeding in a continuous operation of 300 seconds at an ion temperature higher than 100 million degrees by 2025.

Nuclear fusion is an amazing way to produce abundant energy and we are moving ever closer to that goal.

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