China’s Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), which mimics the energy generation process of the sun, sets a new record in the latest experiment, where it achieved a plasma temperature of 216 million Fahrenheit (120 million oC) for 101 seconds.
Not just that, Scientists working on the “Artificial Sun”, also achieved a peak temperature of 288 million degrees Fahrenheit (160 million oC), which is over ten times hotter than the sun.
What is China’s ‘artificial sun’ EAST?
The HL-2M Tokamak reactor is China’s largest and most advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device, and scientists hope that device can potentially unlock a very powerful clean energy source. It is located at the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ASIPP) in Hefei, China.
The EAST is one of the major domestic tokamaks that are presently being operated in the country. Since it first became operational in 2006, the EAST has set several records for the duration of confinement of exceedingly hot plasma. The EAST project is part of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) facility, which will become the world’s largest nuclear fusion reactor when it becomes operational in 2035. The project includes the contributions of several countries, including India, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States.
How does the ‘artificial sun’ EAST works?
The EAST Tokamak device is designed to replicate the nuclear fusion process carried out by the sun and stars. Nuclear fusion is a process through which high levels of energy are produced without generating large quantities of waste. Previously, energy was produced through nuclear fission- a process in which the nucleus of a heavy atom was split into two or more nuclei of lighter atoms.
While fission is an easier process to carry out, it generates far more nuclear waste. Unlike fission, fusion also does not emit greenhouse gases and is considered a safer found in hydrogen – are made to fuse together to create helium nucleus, a neutron along with a whole of lot of energy.
Fuel is heated to temperature of over 150 million oC so that it forms a hot plasma of subatomic particles. With the help of strong magnetic field, the plasma is kept away from the walls of the reactor to ensure it does not cool down and lose its potential to generate large amounts of energy. The plasma is confined for long durations for fusion to take place.
According to a report in New Atlas, scientists are currently working on wide variety of devices to trigger these reactions, but experts said that doughnut-shaped tokamaks, like the EAST, appear to be most promising. The device features a series of magnetic coils designed to hold superheated streams of hydrogen plasma in place for long enough for the reactions to occur.
Why does it matter?
Li Miao, director of the physics department of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said the latest experiment by Chinese scientists is a key milestone towards the goal of keeping temperature at a stable level for a long time.
This is a step in the right direction as far as China’s green development is concerned, Lin Boquiang told the Global Times- “It’s more like a future technology that’s critical for China’s green development push,” he said.