Inside the Chinese artificial sun, which continues to break scientific record after record. Credit: Institute of Plasma Physics Chinese Academy of Sciences

China’s Artificial Sun Breaks Records—10 Reasons Why This is Huge

In the future, similar reactors could be used to generate energy at commercial scales.

Chinese physicists working at the EAST Tokamak reactor, dubbed the “artificial sun”, have set a new world record for the time of confinement of hot plasma in a magnetic field – they managed to hold a plasma heated to 120 million kelvin for 101 seconds, and a plasma heated to 160 million kelvin for 20 seconds. 

10 Important facts you need to know about the Chinese artificial sun and its record-breaking achievements

1. EAST (Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak) is one of the few thermonuclear installations in the world with a fully superconducting magnetic system based on niobium-titanium conductors.

2. At the Tokamak, research is underway in the field of thermonuclear fusion, in particular, the possibility of long-term confinement (several hundred seconds) of high-temperature plasma in a magnetic field.

3. Other purposes include the development of non-inductive plasma heating, diagnostics, and control of plasma instabilities, as well as the development of materials for components facing plasma, such as the divertor and the first wall of the tokamak.

Scientists working inside the experimental advanced superconducting tokamak. Credit: Xinhua/Liu Junxi
Scientists working inside the experimental advanced superconducting tokamak. Credit: Xinhua/Liu Junxi

4. The facility not only plays an important role in China’s contribution to the ITER international fusion reactor project but also should help scientists in the development of the project of the Chinese Experimental Fusion Reactor (CFETR).

5. The large radius of the tokamak vacuum chamber is 1.7 meters, and the small one is 0.4 meters, its inner lining is made entirely of metal, and a water-cooled tungsten divertor is installed at the bottom of the chamber. Wave heating systems such as LHCD, ICRF, and ECRH are responsible for maintaining the current in the plasma, and the maximum value of the toroidal magnetic field is 3.5 Tesla.

6. EAST has been operating since 2006 and during this time has set several records for the duration of confinement of increasingly hot plasma. On May 28, 2021, Chinese scientists managed to break the record for the duration of the discharge retention previously achieved at the South Korean KSTAR tokamak.

The Chinese artificial sun. Credit: Xinhua/Zhou Mu
The Chinese artificial sun. Credit: Xinhua/Zhou Mu

7. They managed to hold the plasma heated to an electron temperature of 120 million kelvin (in the center of the plasma column), held it in the H-mode for 101 seconds, while the current in the plasma was more than 500 kiloamperes.

8. In addition, an experiment was carried out during which it was possible to keep the plasma heated to 160 million Kelvin for 20 seconds.

9. Despite the fact that the results obtained have become a new record, they still do not reach the parameters required for the operation of an industrial thermonuclear tokamak reactor. In particular, in the ITER project, researchers intend to hold a plasma heated to a temperature of 150 million Kelvin for 400 seconds.

10. Nevertheless, the data obtained during the work should help to increase the confinement time and plasma temperature in the future.

In addition to ITER, the construction of which is in full swing, there are also private companies engaged in research in the field of thermonuclear fusion. Some even claim that their reactors might be able to generate enough energy for commercial use before the end of this decade.

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Global Times. (n.d.). China maintains ‘artificial sun’ at 120 million Celsius for over 100 seconds, setting new world record.
New Atlas. (2021, May 31). China claims new fusion record with its “artificial sun” nuclear reactor.
Papadopoulos, L. (2021, May 30). Getting Closer to Nuclear Fusion: China’s Artificial Sun Sets New World Record.
Tran, T. (2021, May 29). China’s “Artificial Sun” Fusion Reactor Just Set a World Record.
Xinhua. (n.d.). “Chinese artificial sun” sets new world record.

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.

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