After completing the first test of its nuclear fission reactor, China is now all set to go ahead with full force. This “Artificial Sun” is China’s experiment at imitating the Sun’s energy-generation process.
Another term that you need to understand before we go ahead is “nuclear fission”. In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, fission is a process wherein an atom’s nucleus is split into its smaller constituents called nuclei that are collectively termed as ﬁssion products.
On the other hand, unlike the Sun, this reactor is based on “nuclear fusion”. Fusion doesn’t emit greenhouse gases. In fusion, various atomic nuclei combine together to form larger atomic nuclei and subatomic particles (neutrons or protons).
The fission of heavy elements is an exothermic reaction, that is to say, and huge amounts of energy are released in the process, all the while exuding far more nuclear waste than its counterpart.
Sun And Energy
Now, let’s first look at how the Sun produces energy. It is through nuclear fission that the Sun produces such vast amounts of energy. The hydrogen atoms inside the Sun collide with one another thereby fusing at around 15 million degrees centigrade.
This is how helium is created. This is also how every single mass of the hydrogen atom turns into energy.
The EAST Project
China’s “Artificial Sun” also known as EAST which stands for “Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak”, is a tokamak fusion reactor located in Chengdu, China.
Hydrogen atoms are subjected to strong magnetic fields wherein they are compressed to create plasma. This plasma is capable of reaching more than 150 million degrees Celsius (ten times hotter than the nucleus of the Sun).
When these atoms fuse together, an extreme amount of energy is produced.
The First Plasma
2020 witnessed the HL-2M Tokamak reactor achieving its very first plasma. As far as nuclear energy is concerned, this has proven to be exemplary and a scientific marvel for the entire world.
China’s plasma physics has also accomplished a great deal out of it. SWIP, a part of the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) designed the reactor and went on to build it as a substitute to the Sun.
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Project is also bound to benefit from the EAST with flux instability and ultra-high temperature plasma magnetic phenomena being the key fields.
EAST Setting A New Record
The Artificial Sun made a new record by running at 216 million degrees Fahrenheit (120 million degrees Celsius) for 101 seconds.
Following this, it went on to achieve a peak temperature of 288 million degrees Fahrenheit (160 million degrees Celsius), ten times hotter than the nucleus of the Sun.
“The breakthrough is significant progress, and the ultimate goal should be keeping the temperature at a stable level for a long time,” said Li Miao, the director of the Department of Physics at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China.
Starting in 2006, EAST has indeed come a long way. But despite the record-breaking achievement, the reactor still remains in incubation. It might take decades for its emergence in the list of scientific perfections.
Why Are We Looking For The Sun’s Substitute?
This project aims to make unlimited clean energy accessible to the world, and at a very low cost. It also plans to reduce greenhouse emissions and the volume of nuclear waste.
This is possible via fusion, as opposed to fission. The creation of “plasma soup” and thereby energy in large amounts, is a great step towards green development.
While China has undoubtedly achieved tremendously, South Korea seems to be not far behind. Its “KSTAR reactor” has set a new record in 2020 with its plasma temperature running over 100 million degrees Celsius for 20 seconds.
That being said, technology has certainly advanced. It’d come as no surprise if the world successfully gets its first artificial sun, better than the Sun concerning SDGs.
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