NATIONAL

Nuclear fusion scientists make breakthrough

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Dec 26, 2012 - 19:24
  • Updated : Dec 26, 2012 - 19:24
Korea’s National Fusion Research Institute said Wednesday that it has made a breakthrough in generating plasma for a longer period under a controlled environment.

The institute’s Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research, or KSTAR, device was able to generate 600 kilo-amperes of plasma nuclear fusion for 17 seconds through the controlled system of high-confinement mode.

The so-called H-mode by the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor enables the steady flow of D-shaped plasma in a magnetic confinement without touching the walls of KSTAR’s toroidal vacuum vessel, NFRI officials said.

Plasma is the fourth state of matter produced by ionized gas from electrons and nuclei moving freely under an extremely high temperature of some 150 million degrees Celsius.

KSTAR allows this process to take place through the magnetic field that can control their movement for fusion whose energy-generating capacity can one day reach that of the sun. Thus, the tokamak nuclear fusion is often referred to as the “Artificial Sun.”

Officials explained that the H-mode application is important as it was able to further generate plasma in a controlled state. Should it touch the walls, the energy source will break apart and become useless.

Even though the H-mode can control the flow of D-shaped plasma, unstable movement is still possible, which would cause the plasma to leak out of the vessel.

It was able to further stabilize this through a suppression system, officials added.

With the latest development, researchers of the NFRI, which began the KSTAR pilot project in 1995, hope to secure a bigger budget to move forward to meet its goal of generating 2 mega-amperes of plasma for 300 seconds by 2040.

The NFRI and ITER are working side by side to achieve their targets in which the Korean institute aims to provide KSTAR as the solution for ITER’s nuclear fusion plant.

It has secured some 30 billion won ($27.9 million) for 2013, which is 4 billion won short of its initial request, officials noted. NFRI had 28 billion won this year.

Officials said it would need more funding to conduct more tests, while competing with Japan and China which had a head start and are increasing their investment in nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion has been attracting attention since the 1980s as it is cleaner and carbon-free compared to coal and gas-thermal plants, officials noted.

By Park Hyong-ki (hkp@heraldcorp.com)