Chinese Fusion Test Reportedly Reaches New Milestone

Researchers at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak facility in China have achieved a new milestone in fusion power. Credit:

Fusion power has long been considered to be the holy grail of alternative energy. Clean, abundant power, created through a self-sustaining process where atomic nuclei are fused at extremely high temperatures. Achieving this has been the goal of atomic researchers and physicists for over half a century, but progress has been slow. While the science behind fusion power is solid, the process has not exactly been practical.In short, fusion can only be considered a viable form of power if the amount of energy used to initiate the reaction is less than the energy produced. Luckily, in recent years, a number of positive steps have been taken towards this goal. The latest comes from China, where researchers at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) recently report that they have achieved a fusion milestone.Many different fusion concepts have been proposed and tested over the years. Currently, the two most popular designs are the inertial confinement approach, and the tokamak reactor. In the former case, lasers are used to fuse pellets of deuterium fuel to create a fusion reaction. In the latter, the process involves a torus-shaped confinement chamber that uses magnetic fields and an internal current to confine high-energy plasma.Using a tokamak that has three distinct features – a non-circular cross-section, fully superconducting magnets, and fully actively water cooled plasma facing components (PFCs) – scientists at the EAST facility announced last week that they were able to produce hydrogen gas that was three times hotter than the core of the Sun (approx. 50 million °C; 90 million °F), and were able to maintain this temperature for a record-breaking 102 seconds.This is no small accomplishment, as confinement and sustained temperatures are essential to creating fusion power. Once initiated, fusion reactors need to be able to keep the reaction going for —> Read More