09-13-2007 20:40
Nuclear Fusion Test Reactor Completed in Daejeon

Engineers of the National Fusion Research Institute prepare for the opening ceremony of the KSTAR fusion reactor in the Daedeok reseach complex in Daejeon, Wednesday. The 300-billion won reactor begins operation today after 12 years of design and construction. / Yonhap

By Cho Jin-seo
Staff Reporter

An experimental nuclear fusion reactor begins operation in Daejon today, which will lay the foundation for Korea¡¯s dream of developing an unlimited source of clean and safe energy.

Built on a 300-billion won budget over 12 years, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) reactor is expected to make South Korea one of the leading nations in the fusion technology field along with Japan, the United States, China and the European Union.

Nuclear fusion is the most promising, yet a very challenging method of producing clean energy that can meet the ever growing demands without worrying about fuel. Scientist have yet to succeed in harnessing the power in an affordable way, but by using the KSTAR furnace, the government wants to start commercial fusion power generation in 30 years.

``The KSTAR project has a long way to go. Its completion is just an end of the beginning,¡¯¡¯ said Lee Sang-mok, director of the Basic Research Bureau of the Ministry of Science and Technology. ``We will face a lot of obstacles from now on. But the KSTAR is a dream project that will make South Korea an energy-independent nation.¡¯¡¯

Nuclear fusion is a dream energy. It is much cleaner than fossil fuels or nuclear plants because it emits few green house gas and little radioactive byproducts. Its fuel is hydrogen, one of the most abundant elements on Earth that can be easily extracted from seawater.

The best example of fusion power¡¯s efficiency is the sun. The Sun has produced enormous amounts of heat and light for more than four billion years by burning hydrogen.

Another example is the hydrogen bomb developed in the 1950s, which can be a thousand times more powerful than the nuclear bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. But producing electricity is a lot trickier than building a bomb, because the energy produced from the reactor should be stable and controllable.

Modern experimental fusion reactors consume more energy in operation than they produce, and scientist hope they can reverse the proportion and will be able to build profitable power plants in the first half of this century.

For the KSTAR project, five government agencies, 10 schools and 24 private companies formed a consortium to build the reactor in the Daedeok research complex in Daejon since 1995.

The principle of fusion reactor is just the opposite of conventional nuclear fission power plants. If two light atoms fuse, they will generally form a single atom with a slightly smaller mass than the sum of their original masses.

The loss of weight is converted to energy, mostly in the form of heat, as shown in Albert Einstein's famous mass-energy formula. On the contrary, fission reaction uses the energy generated by separating a heavy atom into two lighter atoms.

The government wants to use the know-how to be acquired from the KSTAR operation in an international project called ITER (International Tokomak Engineering and Research project). South Korea is one of its seven members. They are to build a large fusion reactor in France by 2015.

Korea is paying 9 percent of the 5-billion-euro ITER budget. It is also going to manufacture 10 of 86 items needed to build the reactor.