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Nuclear fusion tests for ‘Artificial Sun’ have begun in China

The ‘Artificial Sun’ or ‘EAST' experiment starts at Hefei Institute of Physical Science under the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS). According to the China reporter, Deputy director of the institute of Plasma Physics at Hefei institute, Song Yuntao said,

“ Construction of the fusion reactor will begin within five years. Construction will take another 10 years. When the construction is completed, we will build a generator and start power generation from around 2040”.

If this experiment is successful, it will bring humanity closer to the creation of “unlimited clean energy” in the next few years to simulate the reactions that occur naturally inside the Sun in our solar system. The main aim and goal of Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamk (EAST) are making artificial Sun ‘hotter’ and more ‘durable’. According to the report, China has spent 6 billion yuan ($893 million) on the project so far. Chinese scientists say EAST produces no radioactive waste and requires only a small amount of fuel.

Most importantly, what is Nuclear Fusion?

Simply put, nuclear fusion is the process of one or more light nuclei fusing together to form a relatively heavy nucleus, which has some mass loss and is released in the form of energy.

In June, the reactor ran for 120 million degree Celsius for 101 seconds. Following with another 20 sec, it set a world record by achieving it’s peak temperature of 160 million Celsius, which is 10 times hotter than the sun.

How does EAST work?

In order to cause nuclear fusion, a huge amount of heat & pressure are applied to the hydrogen atoms, and the hydrogen atoms fuse. Deuterium and tritium nuclei (both contained in hydrogen) fuse to produce helium nuclei, neutrons & much energy.

Afterwards the fuel is heated to temperatures above 150 million degree Celsius, forming a hot plasma soup of subatomic particles. Then the plasma is kept away from the reactor walls by strong magnetic field preventing it from cooling and losing the ability to generate large amounts of energy. Plasma is then confined for a long time for nuclear fusion to take place.

More about the project

EAST is currently one of the top 3 domestic tokamak operating nationwide. In addition to EAST, China currently operates HL-2A reactors and JTEXT. Moreover, the EAST project is part of the installation of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), which will become the world’s largest thermonuclear reactor when operational in 2035. These projects include donations from several countries, such as India and South Korea. , Japan and the United States. Not only China but also Korea’s KSTAR reactors set a record for maintaining a plasma temperature of over 100 million degrees Celsius for 20 seconds in 2020.

How is Nuclear fusion reactor helpful to human kind?

By the end of this century, energy demand will triple under the combined pressure of population growth, urbanization and increased access to electricity in developing countries. The fossil fuels that shaped the civilizations of the 19th and 20th centuries can only be trusted at the expense of greenhouse gases and pollution. There is an urgent need for new, large-scale, sustainable, CO2-free forms of energy. So EAST project is going to be helpful in many ways such as

• Controlled fusion of atoms releases almost 4 million times more energy than a chemical reaction such as burning coal, oil or gas, and 4 times more energy than fission (given the same mass). Fusion can provide the base load energy needed to power cities and industries.

• Fusion does not release harmful toxins such as carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

• Nuclear fusion reactors do not generate long-lasting, high levels of nuclear waste. Activation of components in a fusion reactor is low enough that the materials can be recycled or reused within 100 years.

• Moreover, the Fukushima-type nuclear accident is impossible with a tokamak fusion device. Achieving and maintaining the exact conditions required for thermonuclear fusion is difficult enough. When a disturbance occurs, the plasma cools down within a few seconds and stops responding.The amount of fuel present in the vessel at any given time is sufficient for only a few seconds and there is no risk of a chain reaction.

This experiment might be really good to human kind if it’s successful as a new source of carbon-free electricity at base loads that do not produce long-lived radioactive waste, fusion can positively contribute to addressing resource availability, carbon emissions, fission waste disposal and safety issues is what we need.

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