China’s “artificial sun” continues to shatter records. This time, the hyper-expensive fusion reactor recorded temperatures five times greater than the surface of the sun. Scientists are hopeful the feat may be the next step to unlocking unlimited power – the holy grail of clean energy.
Secured in Hefei, China, the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) fusion reactor created energy in the same manner stars do for 17 minutes straight.
This time smashed the record previously held by the French Tore Supra Tokamak or Tungsten Environment Steady-state Tokamak (WEST) (tungsten is represented by the letter W on the periodic table of elements).
According to Chinese state media, EAST, which cost a reported $1 trillion to develop and construct, reached a temperature measuring 70 million degrees Celsius (158 million Fahrenheit) for 1 056 seconds.
WEST had previously set the benchmark in 2003 where it maintained similar temperatures but only lasted a little more than 390 seconds.
EAST had made the news in May 2021 when it set another record. Then, the state-of-the-art device recorded a blistering temperature of 120 million degrees Celsius (216 million Fahrenheit) for 101 seconds.
His team’s recent success laid down the groundwork for future endeavours, said project leader, Gong Xianzu, shortly after the feat. Gong is a plasma physics researcher at China’s Academy of Sciences.
For more than 70 years, scientists have grappled with the concept of fusion energy and examples of fusion reactors have been present as early as 1958 when Russian scientist, Natan Yavlinsky, created the first tokamak.
Nuclear reactors create energy by superheating ionised gases until they transform into plasma. Plasma is the fourth state of matter after solids, gases and liquids.
The highly-energized plasma is compressed by electro-magnets or lasers into cramped environments where reactions occur, resulting in a continuous energy source with minimal to no radioactive waste or emissions.
Andrew Holland, the CEO of the Fusion Industry Association, said that EAST’s positive results mark a “bright point” in the future of clean, renewable energy.
Holland pointed out that fusion power is the perfect source of energy as it is always available. However, he warned that it may take time before reactors like EAST are capable of generating power 24/7.