China’s Artificial Sun Just Broke A Record for Sustaining High Temperatures

China's Artificial Sun Just Broke A Record for Sustaining High Temperatures

According to the report, China’s artificial sun project has held a new record for sustaining a nuclear fusion reaction for more than 17 minutes.

In the latest experimentation, hot plasma reached 126 million degrees Fahrenheit—that’s approximately five times greater in its heat than the sun, which radiates a scorching 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit at the surface and about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit at its core. 

Coal and natural gas are the major energy sources currently used worldwide, but these materials come in restricted supply. 

Benefits of China Artificial Sun

Nuclear fusion could be the purest energy source because it imitates the sun’s physics by fusing atomic nuclei to generate enormous amounts of energy into electricity. 

Per the Independent, the process needs no fossil fuels, leaves behind no radioactive residue, and is safer to fission nuclear power.

The recent operation lays a solid scientific and experimental foundation towards the running of a fusion reactor,” says Gong Xianzu, a researcher at the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a statement. 

China’s Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) was developed to potentially be used as a near-limitless supply of clean energy on Earth, the Xinhua News Agency reports. 

The doughnut-shaped EAST reactor is an artificial sun because it imitates the fusion process within stars, reports Robert Lea for Newsweek.

In a star’s core, extreme pressure and high temperatures fuse atomic nuclei, forming new elements, reports Michelle Star for Science Alert. Four hydrogen atoms combine to form one helium atom to achieve nuclear fusion.

How Does It Work?

Tokamaks like EAST use magnetic fields to determine turbulence—at times unstable—plasma, or ionized gas, at high temperatures in a loop course called a toru, per the Department of Energy. 

Inside the tokamak, lasers heat heavy hydrogen atoms, like deuterium and tritium, up to hundreds of millions of degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature threshold where fusion processes begin in stars. 

Newsweek reports that the heat permits researchers to duplicate the extreme gravitational pressure within a star’s core. 

At these high temperatures, the atomic nuclei inside a tokamak will start to smash together and release energy that can be used for electrical power.

However, keeping plasma held at such extreme temperatures without leakage has been confirmed to be highly challenging. 

Scientists have harnessed energy from nuclear fusion for over 70 years. Furthermore, an experimental tokamak reactor that produces more energy than it uses has never been created, per Live Science. Still, China’s success with EAST indicates researchers are getting nearer to sustainably harnessing cosmic power. 

In theory, deuterium can be obtained from Earth’s oceans; one liter of seawater is calculated to have sufficient fusion material to produce energy equivalent to 300 liters of gasoline, Newsweek reports.

Currently, China’s EAST reactor is being used to test technology for an even bigger tokamak reactor under construction in France. 

In a collaboration between 35 countries, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) will be the world’s largest nuclear reactor. 

The United States, the United Kingdom, China, and all states in the European Union are included in the project, Live Science reports. The reactor hoped to start working in 2025, also has the world’s most powerful magnetic field, 280,000 times as strong as Earth’s own.