China's 'Artificial Sun' Marks Breakthrough for Nuclear Fusion

An interior view of the magnetic chamber used to create the ‘artificial sun’ in Hefei Anhui province Nov. 12 2018. CNS

An interior view of the magnetic chamber used to create the ‘artificial sun’ in Hefei Anhui province Nov. 12 2018. CNS

Researchers from China's Hefei Institutes of Physical Sciences said the "artificial sun" has become the hottest known nuclear fusion experiment on Earth, at 100 million degrees Celsius.

The team of scientists from China's Institute of Plasma Physics announced this week that plasma in their Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) - dubbed the "artificial sun" - reached a whopping 100 million degrees Celsius, temperature required to maintain a fusion reaction that produces more power than it takes to run.

In an earlier experiment from 2016, EAST maintained a plasma temperature of almost 50 million degrees Celsius for 102 seconds before the fusion chamber melted.

The EAST reactor was built as an "artificial sun", designed to replicate the process by which the sun creates energy, in hopes of unlocking the secrets of how to make nuclear fusion a practical reality here on earth.

One way of doing this is to inject plasma into a reactor and hold it in place with magnetic fields; tokamaks like EAST do this using the fields generated by the moving plasma itself.

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Unlike nuclear fission, where the energy comes from the decay of large atoms into smaller elements, fusion releases very little waste: mostly helium. It is this plasma that led EAST to heat to such a high temperature.

Now being built in southern France with collaboration from 35 nations including China, ITER is set to be the first experimental fusion device to produce net energy, producing 10 times more energy than the power required to run it, according to the project website. The facility is 11 meters tall, with a diameter of 8 meters, and a weight of 400 tons. The scientists were able to achieve an electron temperature in the core plasma of over 100 million degrees.

The massive amount of pressure inside the Sun forces tritium and deuterium isotopes (atomic variations of hydrogen) to fuse together, releasing tremendous amounts of energy.

The researchers conducted the experiment earlier this year at the Institute of Plasma Physics in China's Anhui province.

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