Recreating the process by which the sun generates enormous amounts of energy is the challenge that several countries, including China, have faced. The aim of such a process is the formation of helium atoms at high temperature in an environment under extreme pressure.
This has the effect that huge amounts of energy are released. Researchers are developing a number of experimental machines to reproduce and study these reactions in a controlled environment. The Chinese Experimental Advanced Supraconductor Tokamak (EAST) in the city of Hefei is one of these promising research devices for nuclear fusion. Tremendous progress has been made in this area in recent years. China has just announced a new merger record.
Six times hotter than the core of the sun
The reactor at the Hefei Institute of Physical Sciences is a toroidal magnetic confinement fusion tokamak. It has strong electromagnetic fields. These are designed to hold superheated hydrogen plasma flows in place for long periods of time. This makes nuclear fusion possible.
In 2016, the responsible scientists at EAST succeeded in heating the hydrogen plasma to around 50 million degrees Celsius. The reaction was held for 102 seconds. In 2018 the team then reached 100 million degrees Celsius. Note that this temperature is six times higher than that of the solar core. The process then only took 10 seconds.
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A new world record
Their latest series of experiments marks a major breakthrough for Chinese researchers. Proof of this is China’s national news agency Xinhua, which reports a new melting world record at 120 million degrees Celsius.
In addition, the reaction was held for exactly 101 seconds. In an earlier test, Hefeis Reaktor heated the plasma to 160 million degrees Celsius, but only for 20 seconds. In any case, the scientists are still a long way from achieving their ultimate goal. The plasma is kept at around 100 million degrees Celsius for more than 17 minutes.
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“This breakthrough is a significant step forward. The ultimate goal should be to keep the temperature stable for a long time, ”Li Miao, director of the physics department of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, told the Global Times.
For the development of ITER
The generation of energy – electrically – with this technology is not immediately possible. Current performances are far from reaching that point. For now, the goal is to advance nuclear fusion technologies to prepare for the next generation of tokamaks.
The data obtained from the studies will in particular contribute to the development of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), which is scheduled to go into operation in 2035. The international project is based in the Cadarache Nuclear Study Center in France. The achievement that China has just achieved with the EAST is therefore not unprecedented. The South Koreans are carrying out similar experiments with their own tokamak called the Korean Superconductor Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR).