South Korea mass producing tritium breeder pebbles for the $20 billion international experimental nuclear fusion reactor project

South Korea’s state-run laboratory said Wednesday that it has successfully developed a technology for the mass production of tritium breeder pebbles for nuclear fusion energy.

The technology allows the annual production of more than 50 kilograms of tritium breeder pebbles, which is one of two core fuels used for nuclear fusion energy, according to the National Fusion Research Institute (NFRI). Another fuel, called deuterium, is naturally abundant while tritium can only be produced artificially.

This is the first time the mass production of the material will be possible.

The NFRI said the technology would gradually decrease the cost needed to import tritium breeder pebbles which costs about 30 million won ($ 26,700) per one kilogram.

The tritium breeder pebbles is needed for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project under way in France, the NFRI said.

In the present design of the helium cooled solid breeder blanket, these ceramics will be inserted in the plasma surrounding blanket modules as pebble beds with pebble diameters ≤1 mm. The unstable isotope of hydrogen, tritium, is generated during the operation of the reactor by the transmutation of the lithium-6 isotope under neutron irradiation into helium and tritium. In the European test blanket module, which will be tested in ITER in Cadarache, France, lithium orthosilicate shall be used as a possible tritium breeder material.

Pebbles with diameters ranging from 250 to 630 µm

The US $20 billion project is an experimental reactor currently being built in Cadarache, France, to see if a super-hot plasma field can be used to create an artificial sun on Earth. If the experiment is successful, it could provide mankind with a limitless energy source.

“South Korea can now produce the tritium breeder pebbles needed for the ITER project instead of importing it,” said Kim Ki-man, chief of the NFRI.

SOURCE- Korea Times