Business & Economy

South Korea’s ‘artificial sun’ dreams of achieving atomic fusion

By Andres Sanchez Braun

Daejeon, South Korea, Jan 13 (EFE).- KSTAR, the South Korean nuclear fusion research device continues to break its own records and take steps to make a new type of electricity generation a reality that helps solve environmental and energy challenges of the world.

The milestone achieved at the end of last year is difficult to understand for someone unfamiliar with nuclear fusion: the huge device kept active a flow of plasma with ions at a temperature of 100 million C for 30 seconds.

This is better understood when equating this temperature to what is required to replicate on earth what happens inside stars.

This type of extreme conditions is basically what KSTAR, which can be defined as an “artificial sun,” tries to recreate so that in the future the multinational ITER program can carry out the same process by which the sun produces and releases huge amounts of energy.

In addition to South Korea, ITER, which will be a more complex “artificial sun” 27 times larger than KSTAR when its construction is completed in southern France, is made up of the European Union, China, the United States, Russia, India, Japan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom and will start operations in 2025.

“Fusion energy is more than a dream,” said Yoo Suk-jae, president of the Korea Fusion Energy Institute (KFE), which is responsible for KSTAR, at a meeting with foreign journalists this week at its Daejeon headquarters, 130 kilometers south of Seoul.

“The crucial moment may come in 2035, when ITER could begin to generate fusion in a self-sufficient way,” Yoo said, reviewing the calendar handled by the sector and contemplating, if ITER is successful, the possibility of a fusion reactor that could generate electricity by 2050.

What KSTAR, and by extension ITER, are looking for is that this possible future reactor can, through a magnetic confinement system, maintain two isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium, in a plasma state, so that their nuclei can fuse.

If this technology becomes a reality, one gram of deuterium and tritium will be capable of generating the equivalent of what a ten tons of coal produces.

Yoon Si-woo, deputy general manager of the KSTAR Research Center, believes that fusion “may be an important element in the energy mix of the future.”

Fusion does not emit gases into the atmosphere, the radioactive waste it generates is negligible compared to current nuclear fission plants and, as Yoon points out, “the fuel (deuterium and tritium) is abundant in seawater.”

But to make this type of energy a reality, it is essential, in addition to the creation of a self-sufficient fuel circuit that regenerates and recycles tritium, the stabilization of the plasma on which KSTAR is working.

The machine is housed in the central building of the complex in Daejeon and its main body, which houses the superconducting magnets and the annular plasma vacuum chamber, measures almost 9 meters high and almost 9 meters wide.

Yoon spoke of various components and challenges such as the fact that the magnets inside the device have to work at the same time, which have to be “very very cold” for superconductivity to occur, and the plasma chamber, which must be “very very hot.”

“Separated by only three or four meters there is a part that has to be at about 4 degrees kelvin (about -270C) and another that has to exceed 1 million C,” he said. EFE


Related Articles

Back to top button