According to media reports from the past weekend, China’s “artificial sun” nuclear fusion reactor, called HL-2M Tokamak, was powered up successfully for the first time. This development is significant as it could revolutionize the way we produce and consume energy.
The reactor uses a powerful magnetic field to fuse hot plasma and can currently reach temperatures of over 280 million degrees Fahrenheit (150 million degrees Celsius). To get some perspective, this temperature is approximately ten times hotter than the core of the sun, hence the nickname 'artificial sun’.
"The development of nuclear fusion energy is not only a way to solve China's strategic energy needs, but also has great significance for the future sustainable development of China's energy and national economy," according to the statement given by the team to People's Daily. In other words, the HL-2M Tokamak could potentially be a powerful and much-needed clean energy source.
The way fusion works is by merging atomic nuclei to create massive amounts of energy - the opposite of the fission process used in atomic weapons and nuclear power plants, which split them into fragments. Unlike fission, fusion emits no greenhouse gases and carries less risk of accidents or the theft of atomic material.
Chinese scientists have been at work on this project since 2006. The plan is to use the device in collaboration with the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) - the world's largest nuclear fusion research project based in southern France, which is expected to be completed in 2025, and its total cost is estimated to be a whopping $22.5 billion.
HL-2M Tokamak Image source: YouTube
There are 25 nations overall collaborating in the work on ITER. The goal is to build a device designed to prove the practicality and usefulness of fusion as a carbon-free source of energy based on the same principle that powers our Sun and stars.
"ITER will be the first fusion device to maintain fusion for long periods of time. And ITER will be the first fusion device to test the integrated technologies, materials, and physics regimes necessary for the commercial production of fusion-based electricity," writes the project's website.
Time will tell whether nuclear fusion becomes a viable and affordable source of energy production, but China’s recent achievement with HL-2M Tokamak and its forthcoming collaboration with ITER is certainly an important and fascinating step forward.
Cover image source: Interesting Engineering/ Chinese Academy of Sciences
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