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India to Reboot Rs 235 Cr Superconducting Fusion Tokamak: 7 Things to Know

The Steady State Superconducting Tokamak or SST-1 is an experimental fusion reactor in the Institute for Plasma Research (IPR), Gujarat.

The need for clean, renewable and limitless energy has taken humanity from burning wood to obtaining energy from the sun via photovoltaic cells. And next in the line of clean energy are fusion reactors which are touted to be “mini suns” on earth.

Fusion reactions occur when two light atomic nuclei fuse together to form a heavier nucleus and release energy. Devices designed to harness this energy are called fusion reactors.

A fusion reactor

Photo Source: Representative Image

As simple as that sounds, it is the exact opposite when it comes to executing it. But that won’t deter experimentation.

The Steady State Superconducting Tokamak or SST-1 is one such experimental fusion reactor in the Institute for Plasma Research (IPR), Gujarat.

With just four months to go, the 27th International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Fusion Energy Conference will be held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. The conference aims to demonstrate the technological feasibility of fusion power plants as well as their economic viability.

Scientists at IPR are currently under the process of rebooting the experiment to meet the deadline of the IAEA Fusion Energy Conference. And the SST-1 will be one of the prime experiments to be showcased because of its unique capabilities.

India's Fusion reactor SST 1
India’s SST 1 in Indian Plasma Research. Source: IPR

Tokamaks are a type of fusion reactors which use magnetic force to manipulate plasma. Plasma is a type of matter where electrons are separated from neutrons, and this separation is usually achieved by heat. And India is a select few countries to own a Tokamak reactor.

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So here are few things to know about the SST-1 fusion reactor that may be the answer to clean and limitless energy.

  • The 235 crore SST mission started way back in 1994 and was conceptualised by 2005. But it was only fully commissioned by 2013. And until December of 2017, it has conducted about 20 experiments.
  • By 2015, the SST produced repeatable plasma discharges up to ~ 500 ms with plasma currents more than 75,000 A. This gave incredible insights on how to stabilise the fusion for future experiments.

    India's Fusion reactor SST 1
    The design of the Tokamak SST 1 (left) and a representational image of its working (right).
  • One of the great things about fusion reactors is that they use hydrogen and isotopes of hydrogen. This means energy could even be extracted from a glass of water with no harmful byproducts.
  • Routine experimentation in December 2017 revealed that the SST suffered some damage in its toroidal magnet system. “The damage is minimum. We will revive the reactor soon,” a senior IPR scientist, now part of the SST-1 team, told The Times of India.
  • The SST-1 makes use of extreme heat and strong magnetic field to fuse hydrogen isotopes and perform thermo-nuclear fusion. This results in temperatures 20 times greater than the sun’s core and a magnetic field equivalent to 1,000 times that of the earth’s normal magnetic field.

    India's Fusion reactor SST 1
    The blueprint of the SST 1 Source: IPR
  • The SST-1 is the only Tokamak in the world to operate the toroidal magnets in a two-phase flow. This gives diversified results for a fusion study.
  • Former IPR Director D Bora told the publication how the SST-1 achievements had brought India at par with China and South Korea as one of the eight participants in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

The SST-1 promises to hold some clues and to be insightful for future fusion projects that can yield clean energy without depending on conventional methods like coal.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)


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