Gandhinagar institute commissions India’s first experimental fusion reactor

In a significant step towards developing indigenous nuclear fusion technology, Gandhinagar-based Institute of Plasma Research (IPR) has commissioned a super-conducting experimental machine at an estimated cost of Rs 160 crore that can generate power through fusion reactions.

With this device, India joins an elite club of nations, comprising France, Japan, Korea and China, that has developed experimental devices that can generate energy by stimulating the same fusion reactions that take place inside the Sun.

No country has so far managed to develop a fusion reactor.

"This machine — Steady-state Superconducting Tokamak (SST-1) — generated the first plasma on June 20 this year, which generated about 13,000 amp (ampere) current. This is a significant step towards developing indigenous fusion technology and we are only the fifth nation to have such a device that can generate power without the worry of nuclear proliferation," said Subrata Pradhan, a senior scientist who has been working with a team of 85 scientists on this 10-year project at IPR. The institute operates under the Department of Atomic Energy. The machine or the reactor is about 95 per cent indigenous and took about 23 months to be built within the IPR premises in Gandhinagar.

Inside this device, fusion takes place when certain atoms of hydrogen fuse together to form plasma at billion degrees of temperatures. This can be harnessed into steam to run turbines.

The next attempt for this machine will be to generate 50,000 amp power during the next phase of experiments that will be carried out soon.

"We have managed to generate plasma for half a second. Now our attempt would be to make a more stable plasma that can sustain itself for over a minute," said Pradhan. Subrata Pradhan has been awarded with the BUTI Foundation Award-2013 at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) for his work on the SST-1 on Monday.

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