First plasma in Korean fusion reactor

First success for fusion experiment KSTAR

View of Fusion System KSTAR © MPI for Plasma Physics
Read out

The nuclear fusion gains energy from the fusion of atomic nuclei and drives among other things our sun. For some years now, attempts have been made to bring this "sun-fire" to earth. Now, a Korean research reactor has succeeded in producing its first plasma, the prerequisite for fusion.

With the first plasma, the new KSTAR fusion research facility at the National Fusion Research Institute located in Daejeon, South Korea, successfully commenced operations on June 13, 2008. This was officially announced by the institute after the results were evaluated. The goal of fusion research is to gain energy from the fusion of atomic nuclei, similar to the sun. To ignite the fusion fire in a power plant, it must be possible to confine the fuel-a thin ionized hydrogen gas, a "plasma" -heat-isolated in magnetic fields, and heat it up to temperatures in excess of 100 million degrees.

Solenoids hold plasma

The new KSTAR fusion project, in addition to its participation in the international experimental reactor ITER, is at the heart of the Korean fusion program. As the name suggests, KSTAR (Korean Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research) should become the most current topic in the world

Focusing on fusion research, the so-called "Advanced Scenarios": Planned as a medium-sized facility, KSTAR is intended to use new modes of operation to pave the way for a Tokamak in continuous operation.

With a volume of 16 cubic meters, the plasma is comparable to that of ASDEX Upgrade at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Garching, the largest German fusion facility. Both forms resemble the - much larger - plasma of the ITER fusion experiment, whose construction will start in next year's global cooperation in Cadarache, southern France. Unlike ASDEX display

Upgrade, which still works with normally conductive copper coils, KSTAR is - however, like ITER - equipped with superconducting solenoid coils made of niobium-tin. This should allow the system to achieve long pulse durations of up to 300 seconds later.

"First step towards world-class fusion research"

KSTAR has been gradually put into operation since February. First, vacuum and tightness of the plasma vessel were checked, then the superconducting magnets were cooled down to cryogenic temperatures of 4.5 Kelvin near absolute zero, and finally, from mid-June, the first plasmas were produced. According to the Korean researchers, the smooth start of the plasma was the first step towards world-class fusion research.

The coming research years with KSTAR will therefore contribute, the Korean Ministry of Science is convinced, "to make the world threatened by serious energy problems a clean source of energy, the fusion." The other ITER partners in Asia - China, India and Japan also show similar commitment. With the EAST (Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak) Tokamak, which was launched in 2006, China tackles state-of-the-art research issues. SST-1 (Steady State Superconducting Tokamak) is currently being developed in India, and in Japan the JT-60 Upgrade will soon be rebuilt and equipped with superconducting magnet coils.

(Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, 21.07.2008 - NPO)