South Korea is moving like a rocket

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The road to a destination as challenging as commercial nuclear fusion must necessarily be full of small achievements. Of achievements that may seem modest, but which, in reality, are milestones that place us a little closer to an ambitious goal that has no other purpose than to help us solve our energy needs without continuing to emit greenhouse gases.

In this context, ITER captures much of the attention. And it is understandable that this is so. After all, it is a project with an enormous scope, which, moreover, is led by the European Union. In fact, this organization is jointly assuming approximately 50% of the total cost of a plan in which the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India and South Korea also participate.

However, the commitment of public origin for nuclear fusion is not condensed only in ITER. And it is not limited to the European Union either. Not much less. Europe is scoring very important scientific milestones, but there are other countries that are also bidding very high, and that, precisely, do not move in the orbit of the West. In fact, two of them, probably the most advantageous, are China and South Korea.

Two economic and scientific powers worth keeping track of

In the middle of last April I had the opportunity to speak with Carlos Alejaldre, who at that time was the general director of the CIEMAT (if you are curious, you can read the article that includes our conversation). During that talk we addressed many issues related to nuclear fusion, and precisely one of them was the primary role that China already plays de facto as the essential contributor it is to the development of this discipline. This is the reflection that Carlos Alejaldre shared with me that day:

China is contributing in a very important way to ITER, and, in addition, it has started the last design phase of a machine that promises to produce electrical energy and in terms that can overlap with ITER. This last one is a huge project, but it is an experimental reactor and it is not going to produce a single kWh.

However, China may already have a fusion machine capable of producing electricity by the 2040s. It probably won’t be much, but it may prove the viability of this technology and its cost-effectiveness from an energy standpoint.

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The milestone that Carlos Alejaldre had in mind when he spoke these words occurred in the Chinese province of Anhui at the end of 2021. The He’fei experimental fusion reactor managed to beat its own temperature record by stabilizing the plasma at 70 million degrees Celsius for no less than seventeen minutes. To sustain nuclear fusion between the deuterium and tritium nuclei, which make up the fuel that will be used in these reactions, it is necessary to maintain a temperature of 150 million degrees Celsius unperturbed.

To sustain nuclear fusion, it is necessary to maintain a temperature of 150 million degrees Celsius unperturbed.

The information available to us tells us that Chinese scientists still have a lot of work ahead of them, but we must not overlook the fact that this country’s commitment to nuclear fusion is much more recent than that of the European Union, the United States or Russia, and is reaching milestones with amazing frequency. Interestingly, South Korea is following a path similar to that of China. In fact, just a few days ago, this Asian country announced a very important achievement in the field of nuclear fusion.

And it is that the research team at the University of Seoul led by Professor Yong-Su Na has managed to hold the plasma inside the vacuum chamber of the reactor tokamak KSTAR of these facilities at a temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius for 30 seconds. It may seem like a very short time, but in reality it is a great advance if we bear in mind that, as is the case with China, its curriculum in the field of nuclear fusion research through magnetic confinement is much less extensive than that of the great powers. Westerners.

No other nuclear fusion project has a scope comparable to that of ITER today. And possibly neither to the one that DEMO will have in the medium term, which will be the demonstration reactor that will inherit the advances that, if all goes well, will be consolidated in ITER. However, as Carlos Alejaldre has predicted, there is the possibility that some of the Asian economic and scientific powers that are already pushing very hard for nuclear fusion reach the goal before than the European Union, the United States or Russia.

Cover image: michel maccagnan

Via: NewScientist

The road to a destination as challenging as commercial nuclear fusion must necessarily be full of small achievements. Of achievements…

The road to a destination as challenging as commercial nuclear fusion must necessarily be full of small achievements. Of achievements…

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