Korea's Cutting-Edge Fusion Reactor Just Broke Its Own Record For Containing Plasma

The Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) broke a record for fusion in just a year.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences set a record for the longest time taken to reach a point of zero-limitless energy earlier this year.

It's so important because of this.

High temperatures and gravity give hydrogen the energy it needs to squeeze into bigger atoms and overcome the repulsion of their nucleus.

The result of a nuclear fusion is a lot of heat.

It's not possible to scoop together a Sun's worth of gravity. We can achieve similar results by changing the crunch of gravity for heat. We can squeeze enough heat from the atoms to keep the nuclear reaction going, with enough left over for power.

That is the theory. It takes some clever thinking to get that hot plasma to stay in place long enough to get a reliable source of energy.

The KSTAR is one of a few test facilities around the world that are trying to iron out the quirks of a tokamak technology.

Clouds of hot, charged particles are contained in large metal loops. Being charged, the moving cloud creates a strong magnetic field that can be pushed into place by a counter-field.

The KSTAR Tokamak is a fusion research institute.

Tokamaks need to fine-tune the current in a way that it doesn't slip out of its magnetic confines. This is not easy, as the heated pulse of plasma are not so much tornadoes of particles as maelstroms of chaos.

To get a sense of the challenge, try to keep a loop of jelly inside a ring of rubber bands.

There are other ways to achieve the same result. Stellerators, like Germany's Wendelstein 7-X test- device, use a tunnel of magnetic coils to keep the loop of plasma in place. This makes it a little harder to heat the plasma.

The past few years have seen Tokamaks hitting bigger and bigger temperatures.

China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor in Hefei became the first to hit a significant temperature landmark of 100 million degrees Celsius back in 2018, a temperature that's still out of reach of stellerators.

The EAST heated the plasma to 120 million degrees Celsius and held it for more than a minute and a half.

The energy shared among its electrons was measured by those temperatures. It's important to get the temperature of the heavier ion to increase. Not to mention harder.

The KSTAR hit 100 million for its ion temperature last year.

It's just hit 30 seconds, a little over a year later.

Every test facility has its own way of pushing the limits of anything from pulse duration to stability to electron or plasma temperature.

It's important to celebrate every milestone as one more lesson learned because it's tempting to see each record as a competition.

Every achievement shows how to deal with the hurdles we still have to overcome to get the Sun's engine into a powerhouse.