Artificial Sun KSTAR Sets The New World Record

The KSTAR, South Korea's artificial Sun, achieved the world record by shinning for 20 seconds at a hundred million degrees Celsius.

Image Source - YouTube | Image By -  KFE

You would be thinking 20 seconds isn't that long period, so what's a big deal about it? But, I must tell you it is a great achievement in the history of science and technology, as to sustain the temperature of a hundred million degrees (Celsius) for 20 seconds is very difficult and was not possible before this. And KSTAR broke the record. To give you some reference, the temperature at the core of the Sun is around 15 million degrees Celsius, so it's about six times the Sun's core temperature. 

What is the KSTAR?

South Korea's artificial Sun, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research or KSTAR, is a superconducting fusion device. In this, a super-hot plasma is produced and stabilized by strong magnetic fields. It is similar to China's artificial Sun, the HL-2M Tokamak reactor, and nuclear fusion experiments are seen in other countries across Europe. KSTAR aims to recreate the Sun's fusion reaction on Earth and to make the goal of generating nuclear fusion power a reality. The solution for the riddle of harnessing the energy from nuclear fusion has been the vision of many scientists since the early 20th century which seems achievable now. Nuclear fusion is possibly a limitless source of clean energy and, it has the potential of changing the future of electricity production. It will be like holding the power of the Sun in our hands.

This milestone is achieved by the KSTAR Research Centre at the Korean Institute of Fusion Energy (KFE Daejeon) South Korea in joint research with the Seoul National University (SNU) and the Columbia University of the United States. They successively carried the continuous operation of plasma with an ion temperature higher than a hundred million degrees for 20 seconds. Ion temperature of more than a hundred million degrees celsius is also one of the core conditions of nuclear fusion.

Past Achievements

The duration is the new world record, as it is not the first time they reached the mark of a hundred million degrees Celsius. Two years ago, in 2018, KSTAR achieved a temperature of 100 million degrees for the first time but could sustain that temperature only for 1.5 seconds. In 2019, it increased its retention period to 8 seconds, and now it has achieved a time interval of 20 seconds, which is more than twice the previous record. Today, some other fusion devices exist that are capable of retaining the temperature of plasma state at a hundred million degrees or higher, but for a very short period. Recently, China's largest and most advanced nuclear fusion device, HL-2M Tokamak Reactor, reached the mark of 150 million degrees Celsius for a very short time. But, none of the reactors can sustain that high temperature for 10 seconds or more. 

How KSTAR Works?

In nuclear fusion, two atomic nuclei integrate to form a large nucleus to release a large amount of energy. In the Sun, it mainly occurs between 'hydrogen and helium atoms. They are also the lightest elements. Here on Earth, we combine two heavy isotopes of Hydrogen,i.e., Deuterium and Tritium, as a fusion fuel in the fusion reactors. Fusion reactions are initiated with the help of plasma. Plasma is the fourth state of matter. It is a hot conducting gas consisting of positively and negatively charged particles in such a way that the total charge is zero. It is perfect for a nuclear fusion as this state of matter is of a high-energy and high-intensity environment in which ions collide with each other at high speeds. These hydrogen isotopes are placed inside the KSTAR fusion device. This helps ions to break the coulomb's barrier easily so that they can fuse by releasing the ions' nuclear binding energy. The energy released by the fusion reaction is much higher than the fission reaction. For the plasma state, ions must be heated and maintained at high temperatures. To maintain a stable plasma state in a fusion device at such extremely high temperatures for a long time is a very difficult task as it is the operational limit for a normal conducting device. Right now, we don't have the technology to sustain the fusion reaction for a long-duration. By decreasing this time interval, we will come closer to use it to generate electricity.

Why KSTAR Project Was Launched?

Korean Institute of Fusion Energy (KFE) began this research to study the aspects of magnetic fusion energy to give a contribution to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) fusion project. Out of 35 members, South Korea is an important member of the ITER project. KSTAR Research Centre is also designed to conduct experiments for ITER research and to solve complex problems in fusion research. KSTAR was approved in 1995. But due to the East Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, its construction was delayed and, it was completed on September 14, 2007. KSTAR Research Center achieved the first plasma state in June 2008. KSTAR set a world record for the longest confinement of 50 million degrees celsius hydrogen plasma for 70 seconds in December 2016. But, China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (East) broke this record in July 2017 by sustaining it to 101.2 seconds.

Features Of KSTAR

KSTAR is a Tokamak reactor. A tokamak is a device with super-powerful magnetic fields to confine hot plasma in a 'Torus' shape which was conceptualized by Soviet physicists Igor Tamm and Andrew Sakharov in 1950. So, it's pretty old technology. Many reactors in the world work based on the tokamak. The tokamak is one of the many magnetic confinement devices that was developed to produce controlled thermonuclear fusion power. KSTAR features fully superconducting magnets, which is the first in one of its kind.

KSTAR will be sharing its key experimental outcomes in the upcoming International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA, Vienna) fusion energy conference including this success with fusion research in May 2021. KSTAR aims to achieve the continuous operation of 300 seconds with a temperature higher than a hundred million degrees Celsius by 2025.