Nuclear fusion is the ultimate energy source: mimicking the reaction that powers the sun, it could one day offer a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
Unfortunately, fusing together atoms at super high temperatures is proving quite difficult, even for the world’s most distinguished physicists.
But researchers in South Korea achieved a major breakthrough last week when they maintained ‘high performance’ plasma in a stable state for 70 seconds.
That might not sound like very long, but it’s the longest any group has ever achieved in this sort of reaction, a key process for fusion.
Conducted at the KSTAR reaction at Korea’s National Fusion Research Institute, the reaction involves heating plasma blobs to 300 million degrees.
And that’s not even the most complicated part.
Once it’s been heated, scientists have to hold the super hot plasma in place using immensely powerful magnetic fields.
If the blobs are maintained for long enough, hydrogen atoms will start to fuse together, creating helium and releasing energy in the process.
Because of the similarities to the processes that power the sun, scientists sometimes nickname fusion reactors “a star in a jar”.
Currently, it takes more energy to achieve fusion than is released in the process, but it’s hoped the process will become so efficient that a glass of sea water would release as much energy as a burning barrel of oil.
A spokesperson for the NFRI was reported by World Nuclear News as saying: “This is a huge step forward for [the] realisation of the fusion reactor.”
The results of the test haven’t yet been published or independently verified, so physicists are now waiting with bated breath for official confirmation.