3D artist's impression of China's artificial sun - the EAST nuclear fusion reactor. Credit: DepositPhotos

China Turns on its Artificial Sun—Here’s What You Need to Know

The nuclear fusion reactor achieved a temperature close to 70 million degrees - 5 times hotter than our Sun - and ran for 1056 seconds.

China’s artificial sun achieved new records

EAST (Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak), famously known as China’s artificial sun, has been operating for more than 15 years, setting record after record in the field of confinement of hot plasma.

The task of EAST, like other tokamaks (toroidal chambers with magnetic coils), is to create nuclear fusion, similar to what happens on the Sun. Unlike fossil fuels, which are scarce and pose a threat to the environment, the raw materials needed for the artificial sun are found on Earth in virtually limitless quantities. Therefore, thermonuclear energy is considered ideal and clean for the future of humanity.

In May 2021, the EAST tokamak set a new record for the temperature achieved and plasma confinement time – it managed to hold the plasma for 101 seconds at 120 million Kelvin and then plasma for 20 seconds at 160 million Kelvin.

Inside China's artificial sun. Credit: Institute of Plasma Physics/Chinese Academy of Sciences
Inside China’s artificial sun. Credit: Institute of Plasma Physics/Chinese Academy of Sciences

At the beginning of the new year, China switched its artificial sun on once again and achieved record-breaking temperatures. It has been reported that the nuclear fusion reactor ran at more than 70,000,000°C for a total of 17 minutes. That is, it reached levels around five times hotter than the Sun of our Solar System.

In the future, physicists plan to increase the plasma temperature and confinement time, and not only within the framework of work for the upcoming ITER reactor but also under the program to create a Chinese experimental thermonuclear reactor CFETR (China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor), the first experiments on which are planned to begin in 2030.

Korea’s Artificial Sun

Several countries are currently building their own nuclear fusion reactors while others have had operational ones for years – like Korea.

The KSTAR (Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research) tokamak has been operating since 2008 and is one of the few installations of this type in the world with fully superconducting magnetic coils. The coils are made of triniobium stannide and niobium-titanium and are cooled to a temperature of 4 kelvin.

KSTAR conducts research on long-term confinement of hydrogen or deuterium plasma in a magnetic field, including within the framework of work on the project of the international experimental thermonuclear reactor ITER, which is now being built in France.

Image of hot plasma inside the KSTAR tokamak chamber, the same as the one in China's record-breaking artificial sun. Credit: KSTAR
Image of hot plasma inside the KSTAR tokamak chamber, the same as the one in China’s record-breaking artificial sun. Credit: KSTAR

KSTAR has fully superconducting magnetic coils, which are made of triniobium stannide and niobium-titanium and are cooled to a temperature of 4.5 Kelvin. The maximum value of the toroidal magnetic field created by the coils is 3.5 Tesla, the large radius of the tokamak vacuum chamber is 1.8 meters, and the small one is 0.5 meters. The discharge is ignited and the plasma is heated by means of systems of wave heating and injection of neutrals.

The tokamak has previously achieved several world records in the area of ​​hot plasma confinement time. At the end of November 2021, physicists working at the tokamak managed to confine a plasma with an ion temperature of 100 million Kelvin for 30 seconds, operating in the regime with an Internal Transport Barrier, characterized by a lower level of turbulence in the plasma.

Despite the fact that earlier, China’s artificial sun achieved a record figure of 101 seconds for a plasma with a temperature of 120 million Kelvin, the KSTAR team believes that their result is extremely important for thermonuclear energy.

France’s ITER nuclear fusion reactor

Internal structure of the ITER reactor. Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Internal structure of the ITER reactor. Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The project of the international experimental thermonuclear reactor ITER started in 1992. At the moment China, the European Union, India, Japan, the Russian Federation, South Korea, Kazakhstan, and the USA are participating in it.

Its main goal is to demonstrate the possibility of commercial use of a power reactor, in which reactions of synthesis of heavier elements from lighter ones take place, and to solve a number of physical and technological problems that arise when creating such a power plant.

ITER is considered one of the most complex physical installations that have ever been created by man, the total mass of the reactor is estimated at 23 thousand tons, and it itself occupies a huge building. Construction began in 2007 at the Cadarache research center in southern France, and at the end of May 2020, the base of a cryostat, with a total mass of 1250 tons, began to be installed in the completed reactor shaft.

Installation of the bottom of the cryostat in the ITER reactor shaft. Credit: ITER
Installation of the bottom of the cryostat in the ITER reactor shaft. Credit: ITER

It is expected that the completion of the work and the receipt of the first plasma at ITER will take place in December 2025. At the same time, experiments with deuterium-tritium plasma will begin only in 2035, during which the reactor will have to hold the high-temperature plasma for 400 seconds and reach a thermal power of 500 megawatts.


Join the discussion and participate in awesome giveaways in our mobile Telegram group. Join Curiosmos on Telegram Today. t.me/Curiosmos


Sources:

Eun-jin, K. (2021, November 23). Kstar nuclear fusion reactor further improved. Businesskorea.
Nuclear Engineering International. (n.d.). Another plasma record for Korea’s fusion researchers.
Xie, E. (2022, January 1). China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ hits new high in clean energy boost. South China Morning Post.
Xinhua. (n.d.). “chinese artificial sun” sets New world record.
Young, C. (2022, January 3). China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ has just hit a new nuclear fusion milestone. Interesting Engineering.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

Write for us

We’re always looking for new guest authors and we welcome individual bloggers to contribute high-quality guest posts.

Get In Touch