China: Nuclear Scientists Reach a Major Milestone to Harness Energy From Nuclear Fusion

Nuclear scientists in China reached a major milestone to harness energy from nuclear fusion.

Scientists from the Institute of Plasma Physics announced that plasma reached 100 million degrees Celsius in the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), a device designed to replicate the nuclear fusion process that occurs in stars to generate energy.

The EAST device that pulled off the 100 million Celsius feat stands more than 30 feet tall, 25 feet wide and weighs almost 400 tons. The team is hoping that 100 million degrees Celsius will be enough to start a fusion reaction. They were only able to maintain these temperatures for briefly and will need to maintain them for an extended period of time to make fusion.

The device uses a ring to house heavy and super-heavy isotopes. The isotopes are heated by electric currents inside the tokamak, pulling electrons off of the atoms, forming charged plasma. Magnets lining the inner walls contain the plasma to a small area to fuse the ions together. When ions fuse the ions give off energy, which can then be harnessed.

The research team said they were able to achieve the record temperature with new techniques heating and controlling the plasma, but they were only able to maintain the state for about 10 seconds. The latest breakthrough provided experimental evidence that reaching the 100 million degrees Celsius mark is possible.

The achievement by EAST will be important to the development of the next major experiment in global nuclear fusion science, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor or ITER.

The ITER is set to be the first experimental fusion device to produce net energy, producing 10 times more energy than the power required to run it. ITER will be an experimental facility and it will not harness the energy to create electricity for the populace. 

ITER is expected to be ready to create its first plasma and begin operations in 2025.



Image: “Spurting Plasma” by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is licensed under CC BY 2.0