On March 19, 2109 The Daily Galaxy reported that China was close to launching its “artificial sun” promising a future of ‘limitless clean energy –a Chinese “Green New Deal”. Unlike nuclear fission, fusion emits no greenhouse gases and carries less risk of accidents or the theft of atomic material.
Sometimes called an “artificial sun” for the sheer heat and power it produces, China’s doughnut-shaped Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) that juts out on a spit of land into a lake in eastern Anhui province, has notched up a succession of firsts, reports AFP. Officials announced that the machine which will hold the ‘artificial sun’, called the HL-2M Tokamak, could be built this year using nuclear fusion in which hydrogen from sea water and readily available lithium is heated to more than 150 million°C.
The current Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor in Hefei has created temperatures as hot as the interior of the sun. In November, it became the first facility in the world to generate 100 million degrees Celsius (212 million Fahrenheit)—six times as hot as the sun’s core. These mind-boggling temperatures are crucial to achieving sustainable nuclear fusion reactions, which promise an inexhaustible energy source.
“The artificial sun’s plasma is mainly composed of electrons and ions and the country’s existing Tokamak devices have achieved an electron temperature of over 100 million degrees C in its core plasma, and an ion temperature of 50 million C, and it is the ion that generates energy in the device,” said Dr Duan Xuru, an official at the China National Nuclear Corporation, according to China’s Global Times.
HL-2M Tokamak is expected to increase the electricity intensity from one mega amperes to three mega amperes, an important step to achieve nuclear fusion, a spokesperson surnamed Liu with the press office of the Southwestern Institute of Physics (SWIP), affiliated with China National Nuclear Corporation, told the Global Times.
For instance, the deuterium (also known as heavy hydrogen) extracted from one liter of seawater releases the energy equivalent of burning 300 liters of gasoline in a complete fusion reaction, Liu said.
The “artificial sun” aims to release nuclear fusion in the same way as the sun by using deuterium and tritium (radioactive hydrogen-3), and finally generate electricity. It is clean energy that will not generate waste, which makes it ideal for people to use in the future, Liu said.
The shape of the current “artificial sun” looks like one of the imagined “planetary engines” in Chinese sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth, and its core device is a red rectangle, The Beijing News reported, saying this was the first time that the picture of an “artificial sun” had been published.
In 2018, scientists announced they had sustained that temperature for 60 seconds, but the goal is to keep it going for upwards of one thousand seconds.
“We are hoping to expand international cooperation through this device (EAST) and make Chinese contributions to mankind’s future use of nuclear fusion,” said Song Yuntao, a top official involved in the project, on a recent tour of the facility.
China is also aiming to build a separate fusion reactor that could begin generating commercially viable fusion power by mid-century, he added. EAST is part of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, which seeks to prove the feasibility of fusion power.
Funded and run by the European Union, India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, the multi-billion-dollar project’s centerpiece will be a giant cylindrical fusion device, called a tokamak. Now under construction in Provence in southern France, it will incorporate parts developed at the EAST and other sites, and draw on their research findings.
Image at top of page: a coronal mass ejection. There is an expansion of loops and a lift-off of material indicating that there is probably a fast CME.