China’s “Artificial Sun” Is Now Hot Enough for Nuclear Fusion

On Tuesday, a team from China’s Hefei Institutes of Physical Science announced that its Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor — an “artificial sun” designed to replicate the process our natural Sun uses to generate energy — just hit a new temperature milestone: 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit).

For comparison, the core of our real Sun only reaches about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit — meaning the EAST reactor was, briefly, more than six times hotter than the closest star.

About Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST):

It is an experimental superconducting tokamak magnetic fusion energy reactor in Hefei, China. The Hefei-based Institute of Plasma Physics is conducting the experiment for the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It has operated since 2006. It was later put under control of Hefei Institutes of Physical Science.

The EAST stands at 11 meters tall, has a diameter of 8 meters and weighs about 360 tonnes.

It uses a ring to house heavy and super-heavy isotopes — atomic variations — of hydrogen known as deuterium and tritium.

The isotopes are heated by powerful electric currents within the tokamak, tearing electrons away from their atoms and forming a charged plasma of hydrogen ions.

Powerful magnets lining the inner walls of EAST then contain the plasma to a tiny area to maximize the chance that the ions will fuse together.

When the ions fuse they give off a large amount of energy, which can then be harnessed to run a power plant and produce electricity.

Not only is EAST’s new plasma temperature milestone remarkable because, wow, it’s really hot, it’s also the minimum temperature scientists believe is needed to produce a self-sustaining nuclear fusion reaction on Earth.

Now that China’s “artificial sun” is capable of heating plasma to the necessary temperature, researchers can focus on the next steps along the path to stable nuclear fusion.

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