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Time-resolved x-ray spectra were recorded at the RIKEN 18 GHz electron cyclotron resonance ion source (ECRIS) run in a pulsed mode, in order to understand why the best operating conditions are different in continuous and afterglow modes. The production of the largest afterglow currents of highly charged ions appears to be correlated with the building up of an important hot-electron component during the heating stage. The sudden drop of the corresponding hard x-ray emission at the microwave power turn-off is also studied. These observations support the view that the boosting afterglow effect is due to a fast modulation of the ECRIS plasma potential. © 1999 American Institute of Physics.