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The power of artificial sun: Fusion

The power of artificial sun: Fusion thumbnail

With energy, people live, plants grow, machines move, and the world survives. Sounds familiar?

Yes, that is the Sun, the ultimate energy source, the holy grail of all problems. But can we bring it closer and have it here on Earth?

The Sun is basically a pressure cooker. It cooks one basic element of our universe, hydrogen. With enough heat and density, hydrogen atoms merge. This is fusion, and it can create an enormous amount of energy. Actually, it produces nearly four million times more energy than burning coal or gas. But this cooker is special – it is very hot and very packed. And it is almost impossible to create such a cooker on Earth. No Earth material can withstand the high temperature and pressure that sustain fusion in the Sun.

The most promising prototype is called tokamak. This is Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), a tokamak built in eastern China’s Hefei City in 2006.

The key is to create a system that is extremely hot, but also stably contained and monitored.

“Tokamak is a kind of machine. This machine can generate a very strong magnetic field. When the material is heated at a very high temperature, it can become plasma. The electrons can move away from the atom and become free-motion charged particles. The strong magnetic field can confine these particles. In that case, we can have a high-density, high-temperature plasma in the machine,” said Xu Guosheng, director of the Tokamak Physics Division at Institute of Plasma Physics, Hefei Institutes of Physical Science.

In 2018, the EAST achieved a temperature of over 100 million degrees Celsius. That is more than six times as hot as the core of the Sun. And it sustained the temperature for 10 seconds before shutting down.

It is not a sun on Earth, yet it realizes wild and intense nuclear fusion. But it needs a harness to contain the energy. The Chinese came up with a key technology: magnetic field with superconducting. It lasts long and uses minimum amount of electricity. The tokamak is a success and a stepping stone toward a real fusion reactor.

The team here aims to make China’s own nuclear fusion reactor. The ambition is to solve engineering problems to produce more energy for longer time.

But there is a big problem: it is not worth it.

So far, all machines have used more power to make fusion possible than the power produced by fusion. To make fusion a viable energy source, the devices need to become much more efficient.

ITER promises to get us there. ITER is the world’s largest tokamak under construction. It is supported by 35 countries, including the European Union, U.S., Russia, China, Japan, Korea and India. The construction of the device is expected to be completed around 2024. And it targets to go nuclear in 2035.

“One of the two major difficulties in achieving nuclear fusion is that we have to maintain the plasma at a very high temperature for a long time. China is in a leading position globally in terms of stably operating superconducting tokamak for a long time. We have been holding the world record in this regard,” said Xu.

Fusion is revolutionary. But It takes money, commitment, and most important of all, vision. Even the most optimistic predict it will take decades before the technology comes to fruition. The Chinese took the challenge and want to join the world’s best minds for the endeavor. The appeal is obvious – it will serve 1.4 billion Chinese with clean and efficient energy for a millennia and give the world a real holy grail.

Fusion is a bold idea. It will elevate human energy use into new dimensions. But like all next-generation technologies, the process is very humbling. We ran into problems, we got frustrated and we moved on. Like making nuclear bombs and landing a man on the moon, we choose to do it because it is hard, extremely hard. And everything good is hard to get.

The scientists from China and the rest of the world are working together because they believe fusion energy will be energy of the future, and that future is coming.

Script: Zou Yue, Li Linxi  

10 Comments on "The power of artificial sun: Fusion"

  1. Abraham van Helsing on Thu, 21st May 2020 6:31 am 

    “The scientists from China and the rest of the world are working together because they believe fusion energy will be energy of the future, and that future is coming.”

    Very well possible, but first we are going to have a “renewable energy century”. At least that works and has won the global public relations battle, except for the US, that is putting itself at a distance from Eurasia.

  2. DT on Thu, 21st May 2020 7:23 am 

    “renewable energy century”. “At least that works and has won the global public relations battle” That’s right clean green, renewable, sustainable, smart energy, brought to you by Global capitalisms industrial civilization public relations gimmicks. PR = propaganda.

  3. DT on Thu, 21st May 2020 8:59 am “Of his many books, Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda (1928) gained special attention as early efforts to define and theorize the field of public relations.”

  4. SocialRevolutionComing on Thu, 21st May 2020 10:03 am 

    Went shopping yesterday. All the restrictions COVID at shopping stores are there to make your life miserable. They are there to decrease oil consumption and also avoid shortage cause by supply chain disruption.

    COVID is a tool they are using to manage the international supply chain. It is not working. UK beaches were full of people this weekend not respecting physical distancing. Plus people in Canada, UK and France refuse to send their young kids back to school.

    Now to want to keep the fear alive by forcing people to wear mask all the time. I say fight fear with bigger fear. Instead of a small mask go for a industrial dusk mask.

  5. l on Thu, 21st May 2020 10:26 am 

    SocialRevolutionComing on Thu, 21st May 2020 10:03 am

    supertard’s supertard sock

    why u love muzzies so much?

    do you enjoy muzzie ck throughout the day or once/day?

    i hear it tastes good but i need to try it.

  6. Dredd on Thu, 21st May 2020 1:29 pm 

    Why are people all “gaga” about artificial”?

    Artificial virus cognition (On The Origin Of The Home Of Covid-19 – 2).

    Artificial intelligence (On The Peak of Intelligence – 2″> On The Peak of Intelligence – 2 ).

    FYI: There is no such thing as artificial photons.

  7. Richard Guenette on Thu, 21st May 2020 1:57 pm 

    People have been talking about this for years. Actions speak louder than words.

  8. Outcast_Searcher on Thu, 21st May 2020 2:35 pm 

    Dredd: Given the reality of things like lasers, your claim re photons is more about semantics than practicality.

    IF we get practical fusion power in, say, 3 to 5 decades, Jevon’s paradox will still make it a pretty moot point over time.

  9. Antius on Fri, 22nd May 2020 1:43 pm 

    Tokamak fusion has poor power density and all tokamaks to date require greater energy input than they generate. Maybe in the decades to come, we will see a tokamak that achieves better than breakeven. But power density will still be an order of magnitude lower than a bog standard pressurized water reactor. So a fusion reactor will be an economic failure even if it becomes technically feasible.

    On the other hand most of the energy that it would generate is carried out of the reaction chamber by fast neutrons, which have a whopping 14MeV of energy. This high enough to fast-fission thorium, depleted uranium or even actinide nuclear waste, without the need for breeding. Each fast neutron with 14MeV energy will generate 3-4 fissions releasing 200MeV each, if the reaction chamber is surrounded by a DU or thorium blanket.

    So fusion may end up contributing to global energy needs sooner than most people think. It just won’t be in the way that most people think it will.


  10. Antius on Fri, 22nd May 2020 1:44 pm 

    Well done for fucking the thread with an overlong link ‘Socialrevolutioncoming’.

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