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Fusion reactor endurance record hints at our energy future

The South Korean reactor held an ideal state for longer than any of its rivals.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
December 19, 2016
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Seokyong Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Wondering why a fusion reactor isn't powering your home right now? There are numerous reasons, but one of the biggest is simply keeping the necessary super-hot plasma in an ideal state for energy generation -- it doesn't last that way for long. South Korea, however, just edged closer to that goal. The country's KSTAR (Korean Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research) reactor team claims to have set an endurance record for operating with "high performance" plasma. The feat only lasted for 70 seconds, but that's still a "huge step forward," according to the National Fusion Research Institute.

The achievement comes through a combination of factors. The KSTAR group used a completely non-inductive mode and a high-power neutral beam to reach the plasma state, and they reduced the heat on plasma-facing parts through tricks such as creating a spinning 3D field. On top of this, they also developed another groundbreaking, more practical mode that should allow for higher pressure at relatively low temperatures.

You're still a long, long way from seeing practical fusion energy. However, the efforts will help South Korea develop a new reactor, K-DEMO, that should demonstrate the advantages of steady-state fusion power. Think of this as a nudge that gets the ball rolling on a transition toward cleaner, safer and more powerful replacements for the nuclear reactors you see today.

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