China’s “artificial sun” sets new record

China’s “artificial sun” sets new record
China’s “artificial sun” sets new record

Chinese engineers set a new world record for nuclear fusion by reaching a plasma temperature of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds. This is one more step towards mastering reliable and long-lasting fusion power.

The fossil fuels of our planet, if they have allowed the development of our civilization, continue to pollute our atmosphere by emitting greenhouse gases. On the other hand, nuclear fission reactors are now very expensive to maintain, and generate large amounts of radioactive waste. As for the so-called “green” energies, of solar and wind types, they are interesting but inconstant and insufficient. Also, our energy future will probably have to go through another option.

The energy of the stars

This is why several countries are currently trying to control nuclear fusion – at work in the heart of the stars – promising to release a colossal amount of “clean” and almost “unlimited” energy. Technically, this is one of the biggest technical challenges facing our species. Because imitating the stars is no easy task.

To do this, some engineers are developing reactors (called “tokamaks”) inside which they heat deuterium and tritium to more than 100 million degrees Celsius until they form a plasma cloud. This cloud must then be controlled with super strong magnets long enough for the deuterium and tritium atoms to coalesce and release energy.

The current iterations are too inefficient to be viable, but tokamaks are currently our best option to be able to one day rely on functioning fusion reactors.

Interior view of the torus of the Tokamak with variable configuration (TCV). Credits: Wikipedia

New record in China

In recent years, some experimental reactors have managed to raise temperatures enough to obtain plasma. On November 24, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR), a Korean experimental superconducting fusion reactor, set a new world record by successfully maintaining the plasma at high temperature for twenty seconds with an ion temperature above 100 million. degrees Celsius.

But all records are made to be broken. In Hefei, China, the Advanced Experimental Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), one of six Chinese fusion reactors, has just maintained a plasma heated to 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds, as well as a cloud at 160 million degrees Celsius for twenty seconds. The announcement was made by the Global Times, a media affiliated with the Chinese state.

This breakthrough is significant progress. The ultimate goal will be to keep these temperatures at a stable level for a long time.“Li Miao, director of the physics department at the Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen, said in a statement to the Global Times. EAST, in service since 2006, now aims to maintain plasma pulses for 1000 seconds.

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