The KSTAR project in South Korea has been in the gasworld headlines of late, having successfully generated the first plasmas in the core of its new Tokamak device.

The research utilises helium liquefaction technology from Air Liquide and just as with the operations of CERN, is a highly scientific project for harnessing nuclear fusion as a potential electrical energy source.

South Korea’s key role in International
Fusion Research

The Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) project is the major effort of the Korean National Fusion Program to design, construct and operate a steady-state-capable tokamak.

The Project is led by the Korea Basic Science Institute and shared by national laboratories, universities and industry together with international partners.

The KSTAR Project was approved in 1985 as a joint US-Korean collaboration intended to study aspects of magnetic fusion energy which will be pertinent to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) effort.

Launched in 1995, KSTAR’s mission was to develop a fully superconducting tokamak of similar size to Germany’s ASDEX-Upgrade at the Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics in Garching and the US’ DIII-D at General Atomics in San Diego.

Mission milestones
KSTAR officially entered the ITER project in June 2006 and although it isn’t at the core of the ITER mission, several milestones have been achieved in physics and fusion energy production.

Today, KSTAR is the world’s largest tokamak type reactor and one of the first to employ the same type of superconducting magnets as those specified for the ITER reactor, slated to begin construction in 2008 and hopefully operational by 2016.

The origins of this high-tech initiative can be traced to the establishment of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science (KAIS), at the Homgneung Campus in Seoul early in 1971.

The project was completed on 14th September 2007 and the first plasma occurred on 15th July 2008. Planned experiments will use both hydrogen and deuterium fuels but not the deuterium-tritium mix to be studied in the ITER project.

Speaking after the announcement of the first plasma event and on behalf of the ITER organisation, Director General Kaname Ikeda congratulated Joo-Shik Bak, Director of the KSTAR Research Centre, “Knowing your people and how you built KSTAR I have been confident of this success but truly I appreciate your announcement of today. ITER certainly counts on your achievement and your further cooperation with the international fusion community.”

In November 1985 at the Geneva superpower summit, following discussions with President Mitterand of France, Premier Gorbachov proposed to President Reagan that an international project be set up to develop fusion energy for peaceful purposes.

Today, the ITER Parties include the European Union (represented by EURATOM), Japan, the People’s Republic of China, India, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the US.

ITER will be constructed in Europe, at Cadarache in the South of France.

Korea’s Ministry of Science is committed to providing, “the world, facing serious energy problems, with a clean energy source, named Fusion.” Comparable commitment is also coming from the other ITER partners in Asia (China, India and Japan).

KSTAR objectives
There are four key objectives to the KSTAR project, notably:

Building world class fusion research capability through the successful operation of KSTAR

Serving as the Korean ITER Domestic Agency and technology transfer

Training fusion research personnel and performing forefront research in core technologies required for the construction of fusion power plants

Contributing to the creation of new high-tech industries that apply fusion-related technology.

Fusion research
The objective of fusion research is to derive energy like the sun from fusion of atomic nuclei.

To ignite the fusion fire in a power plant, one has to succeed in confining the fuel (an ionised low-density gas called plasma), thermally insulated in magnetic fields, and heating it to temperatures of over 100 million degrees.