Thailand's 'Fusion Hub' dream one-step closer with first Tokamak

Thailand has officially turned on its first Tokamak reactor in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Plasma Physics.
Christopher McFadden
Scientists and engineers in front of the Thailand Tokamak 1, circa August 2022.

Chinese Academy of Sciences 

Thailand has officially debuted its first-ever Tokamak nuclear fusion reactor thanks to the help of Chinese scientists, The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports. Called the Thailand Tokamak-1, the reactor was activated on Tuesday (July 25) under a joint initiative between the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Plasma Physics in the southeastern city of Hefei.

Thailand's first Tokamak

The reactor, designed to replicate the workings of the Sun, is a significant milestone in sustainable energy research and scientific cooperation between the countries. Thailand Tokamak-1 is also the first of its kind for a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Thailand hopes to use the reactor as a stepping stone to designing and building its domestically-produced one within the next decade. According to the Thai Public Broadcasting Service, the nation also hopes to become Southeast Asia’s hub for fusion technology development.

The reactor is an upgraded version of China's aging HT-6M Tokamak developed by the Institute of Plasma Physics in 1984. Officially decommissioned in 2002, after 18 years of operation, the institute donated the reactor to Thailand under an agreement signed in 2017. The Chinese institute has agreed to assist Thailand in setting up and managing a fusion energy research and development facility. Additionally, they will provide support in fostering talent in this field.

“After signing the agreement with Thailand, the Institute of Plasma Physics has fully upgraded the HT-6M device and its subsystems, which has substantially improved its performance,” the institute says. In December 2022, the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology received the tokamak device after it passed a completion inspection.

“The whole facility is composed of 462 major parts, weighing over 84 tonnes (93 tons). They will be shipped to Thailand in six containers,” said Huang Yiyun, a key project member to the state news agency Xinhua in November 2022.

According to the SCMP, roughly 60 technicians from China were dispatched to Thailand to assist with the assembly, adjustment, and testing of a machine before its official launch. Additionally, nine Thai scientists had previously traveled to Hefei for a three-month training program that taught them how to operate the Tokamak.

First of many

According to Nopporn Poolyarat, head of the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology's nuclear fusion and plasma division, the device was successfully tested on April 21. “On that morning, we still had some problems to fix. Later in the afternoon, we tried again, and suddenly we got the first breakdown,” he said, referring to a transition from gas to plasma. “Everyone was happy. Even though it was a small breakdown, at least we saw plasma," he added.

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