South Korea Just Set A Nuclear Fusion World Record

The KSTAR tokamak at Daejeon. Michel Maccagnan/Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 3.0

Generally speaking, there are two types of nuclear fusion reactors being tested right now. The first is the stellarator, the most famous of which – the Wendelstein 7-X – is currently housed at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Earlier this year, they managed to sustain a hydrogen plasma for the first time, but only for a few milliseconds.

The second is the tokamak, of which there are several being built around the world, including at the NFRI. It’s not clear which type of plasma was sustained by KSTAR this time around, but it’s likely to also have been hydrogen.

The primary difference between the two designs is in the shape of each device, and thus the shape of each corresponding magnetic field. The stellarator is twisted, whereas the tokamak is torus (or doughnut) shaped.

The former is far more complex to construct, but easier to maintain, whereas the opposite is true the other way around. Both designs are competing to see which can advance the field of nuclear fusion power the most, and it seems that South Korea has just taken a giant leap forwards.

In fact, it already has the Korean Demonstration Fusion Power Plant (K-DEMO) – a prototype nuclear fusion power generator that will be completed sometime in the 2030s. If KSTAR continues to be successful, they will transplant its findings into K-DEMO, and maybe, just maybe, South Korea will be the first country in the world to finally build a star in a jar.

Warning: Do not do this to a real nuclear fusion reactor. Lindsay Helms/Shutterstock

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