The year ends with a record in what is considered to be one of the most promising technological areas: nuclear fusion energy. In South Korea, the nuclear fusion reactor known as KSTAR produced plasma that reached temperatures of 100 million degrees Fahrenheit for a period of 20 seconds, setting a new record and more than doubling the best previous record that was also yours – in 2018, the plasma in the reactor had reached and maintained this temperature, but for a period of eight seconds.
Nuclear fusion energy is a method that consists of the fusion of two light atomic nuclei that give rise to a heavier nucleus. This process, which takes place inside a magnetic confinement chamber (known as a tokamak), releases a large amount of energy. The high temperatures form a plasma that allows this fusion process. The researchers’ goal is to use this method to produce energy – the energy resulting from nuclear fusion is used to heat a liquid, such as water, and the steam generated will move turbines that generate electricity. In the end, up to 40 times more energy can be produced than is consumed through this method, which is self-sustainable and does not directly generate carbon dioxide.
What reactors like KSTAR do is replicate the fusion reaction that takes place on the Sun. To get an idea of what has now been achieved, the Solar System’s star core ‘only’ reaches 15 million degrees Fahrenheit.
Hence the importance of the record set by the fusion reactor in South Korea. “The technologies required for long plasma operations at 100 million degrees are essential for the realization of nuclear fusion energy, and KSTAR’s success in maintaining high temperatures plasma for 20 seconds will be an important turning point in the race to secure technologies for long, high-performance plasma operations, a critical component for the commercialization of a nuclear fusion reactor in the future ”, underlines Si-Woo Yoon, director South Korea’s nuclear fusion center (KFE) in a statement.
According to the publication New Atlas, the new record is due to improvements applied to the module that allows the confinement and stabilization of the plasma in the magnetic chamber of the reactor. KStar was completed in 2007, started operating in 2008 and has also managed to produce plasma at 50 million degrees Fahrenheit for a period of 70 seconds.
The record for South Korean equipment is announced a few weeks after China started operations on a new nuclear fusion reactor and a few months after construction began on the largest reactor of its kind in the world – located in France and which counts with Portuguese technology and engineering.
You can learn more about nuclear fusion energy at Exame Informática nº 303.