South Korea’s Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) reactor has achieved a groundbreaking milestone in fusion energy research. Scientists have announced that the reactor successfully superheated a plasma loop to a scorching 180 million degrees Fahrenheit (100 million degrees Celsius) for 48 seconds, setting a new world record and surpassing its own previous record of 31 seconds set in 2021.

This achievement marks a significant step forward in the pursuit of near-limitless clean energy. For over 70 years, scientists have been striving to replicate the process of nuclear fusion, which powers stars like the sun. Fusion involves fusing hydrogen atoms to create helium under extreme temperatures and pressures, producing immense energy without emitting greenhouse gases or generating long-lasting radioactive waste.

However, replicating the conditions found inside stars has proven to be a formidable challenge. Fusion reactors, such as the tokamak design used in KSTAR, rely on superheating plasma and confining it within a donut-shaped chamber using powerful magnetic fields. The goal is to sustain the turbulent and superheated plasma long enough for nuclear fusion to occur. Despite decades of research and development since the first tokamak was designed by Soviet scientist Natan Yavlinsky in 1958, no reactor has yet achieved sustained energy output exceeding input.

One of the primary obstacles in fusion research has been managing plasma at temperatures significantly hotter than the sun. Fusion reactors require extremely high temperatures to compensate for operating at lower pressures compared to stellar cores. For instance, while the sun’s core reaches temperatures of around 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius), it experiences pressures equivalent to 340 billion times that of Earth’s sea level atmosphere.

South Korea’s latest achievement with the KSTAR reactor demonstrates significant progress in overcoming these challenges. By pushing the boundaries of plasma temperature and duration, scientists are paving the way towards unlocking the potential of fusion as a clean and abundant energy source for the future.

By Impact Lab