China’s scientists replicated Sun’s fusion reaction, Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), on Earth, which sets a new record. It mimics the energy generation process of the sun, set a new record after it ran at 216 million degrees Fahrenheit (120 million degrees Celsius) for 101 seconds.

Later in the process, for another 20 seconds, the “artificial sun” also achieved a peak temperature of 288 million degrees Fahrenheit (160 million degrees Celsius), which is over ten times hotter than the sun.

In a recent interview, Li Miao, the director of the department of physics at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China said that-

“The breakthrough is significant progress, and the ultimate goal should be keeping the temperature at a stable level for a long time.”

This initiative is taken by Chinese scientists to promote clean and limitless energy, with minimal waste products.

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Lin Boquiang, the director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, said in a recent interview that it will take decades for a working reactor to emerge from its experimental stages.

What is ‘artificial sun’- EAST?

The Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor is an advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device situated at the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ASIPP) in Hefei, China. The motive of the artificial sun is to replicate the processing of nuclear fusion, which is the reaction that powers the sun too.

The ‘EAST’ is one of three major domestic tokamaks that are presently being operated across the country. Apart from the EAST, China is operating the HL-2A reactor as well as J-TEXT. In 2020 December, HL-2M Tokamak, China’s biggest and most advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device was successfully powered up. It was a key milestone in the evolution of China’s nuclear power research capabilities.

The EAST project is part of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) facility, which is expected to become the world’s largest nuclear fusion reactor when it becomes operational in 2035. The project includes the contributions and efforts of several countries which include India, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States.

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Functioning of EAST

The EAST Tokamak device is completely designed to replicate the nuclear fusion process which is 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.

Nuclear fusion does not emit greenhouse gases and is considered as a safer process with lower risk of accidents. Nuclear fusion could potentially provide unlimited clean energy and very low costs. For nuclear fusion to occur, tremendous heat and pressure are applied on hydrogen atoms so that they fuse in together. The nuclei of deuterium and tritium, both found in hydrogen, are made to bend in together to create a helium nucleus, a neutron along with a whole lot of energy.

Fuel is heated up to temperatures of over 150 million degrees Celsius. With the help of a strong magnetic field, the plasma is kept away from the walls of the reactor to make sure that it does not cool down and lose its potential to generate ample amounts of energy. The plasma is confined for long durations for fusion to take place and to generate the specific result.

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About the record which EAST set and its importance

On Friday, the EAST reactor set a new record, when it achieved a plasma temperature of 216 million degrees Fahrenheit and also ran for 20 seconds at 288 million degrees Fahrenheit. To simplify it, the sun’s core only reaches about 15 million degrees Celsius, which means the reactor was able to touch temperatures that are 10 times hotter than that.

The upcoming goal for the scientists associated with the experimental reactor is to maintain the high temperature for a longer period of time. In some previous experiments, the EAST had reached a record temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius in 2018. This is a step in the right direction as far as China’s green development is concerned.

Lin Boquiang, the director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University said that-

“It’s more like a future technology that’s critical for China’s green development push.”

China is not the only country that has achieved high plasma temperatures. In 2020, South Korea’s KSTAR reactor set a new record by balancing a plasma temperature over 100 million degrees Celsius for 20 seconds.

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