China switched on a nuclear fusion reactor this week. The “artificial sun” is known as the Experimental Advanced Supraconductor Tokamak (EAST for short). After switching on, China noted record levels for sustained temperatures. According to China’s state media, the EAST reactor ran five times hotter than the real sun for over 17 minutes.
China says its overarching goal with the nuclear fusion reactor is to provide near-limitless clean energy. The hope is that the reactor can mimic the natural reactions that take place in stars like the sun. The idea is one that has been suggested for years. However, despite decades of research, it has proven difficult to create a working artificial sun. However, this latest attempt could help China break the walls that have held researchers back for years.
« The latest operation lays a solid scientific and experimental foundation for the operation of a fusion reactor, » said Gong Xianzu, one of the leaders of the experiment and researcher at the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. (via the Independent)
If China can continue work on its artificial sun, we could see more breakthroughs in the future. 17 minutes might not sound like long, but if you run something over 70,000,000 ° C for that long, it’s pretty impressive to say the least. Before that, we also saw other man-made suns that reached over 100 million degrees, another record high.
The idea behind nuclear fusion reactors is not that simple. The entire basis of the idea is based on recreating the physics of the actual sun. Artificial suns do this by fusing atomic nuclei together to create enormous amounts of energy. Researchers then try to find ways to convert all of that energy into electricity. There’s probably a lot more math in the actual process, but that’s the fundamental core of what scientists are trying to achieve.
Since artificial suns don’t need fossil fuels to operate and don’t leave hazardous waste behind, physicists are assuming far less risk for the environment. This is especially true when compared to other energy sources, such as nuclear fission reactors.
China isn’t the only country working to create an artificial sun either. As already mentioned, the idea has been researched at this point for decades. The same team from China’s reactor will also work with a team in Marseille, France. When completed, the artificial sun in Marseille will be the largest reactor in the world. It is known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). Great Britain is also planning to build its own nuclear fusion power plant.
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