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China is planning to create Artificial Sun which is hotter than real Sun

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    3rd Jan, 2022

Context

China has conducted a nuclear fusion experiment towards the advancement of its ''artificial sun.

According to the scientists, in the span of 10 seconds, the temperature of this artificial Sun can reach are 16 crore degrees Celsius, which makes it ten times hotter than the real Sun. When the experiment was conducted, the temperature remained 16 crore degrees Celsius for around 100 seconds.

Background

  • China’s Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) is also known as ‘Artificial Sun’ experiment. The researches started in 2006 in China with the purpose of replicating the nuclear fusion process, as occurs in the Sun and thus use it for power generation in the long run.
  • The EAST project is part of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) facility, which aims to become the world’s largest nuclear fusion reactor when it becomes operational in 2035.

What is International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) facility?

  • It is the world’s largest tokomak device which is located in France. It was launched in 1985. ITER is a collaboration of 35 nations including India, China, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States.
  • Aim-
    • ITER aims to create energy through fusion reaction and utilise it on a commercial and an industrial scale. Nuclear fusion provides a carbon free source of energy.
    • ITER is scheduled to generate first plasma by 2025. A demonstration reactor will then be built, with the aim of creating 500 megawatts of power from just 50 megawatts of input, a tenfold return on energy.
    • Tokomak device
    • The term "tokamak" comes to us from a Russian acronym that stands for "toroidal chamber with magnetic coils."
    • The tokamak is an experimental machine designed to harness the energy of fusion. Inside a tokamak, the energy produced through the fusion of atoms is absorbed as heat in the walls of the vessel. Just like a conventional power plant, a fusion power plant will use this heat to produce steam and then electricity by way of turbines and generators.

Analysis

What is China’s Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) or ‘artificial sun’?

  • The EAST reactor is an advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device located in China. It is one of the three major domestic tokamaks that are presently being operated across China. The other two reactors are ‘HL-2A reactor’ as well as ‘J-TEXT’
  • The EAST project is part of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) facility.
  • China is responsible for manufacturing 9 percent of ITER’s components, and is playing a major role in core technologies like magnetic containment, as well as the production of components that can withstand temperatures of over 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Purpose- The key purpose of the project is to replicate the process of nuclear fusion, which is the same reaction that powers the sun.

What is nuclear fusion?

  • Fusion is the energy source of the Sun and stars. In a fusion reaction, two hydrogen nuclei collide and fuse into heavier helium atoms and release tremendous amounts of energy in the process.
  • Three conditions must be fulfilled to achieve fusion in a laboratory
    • Very high temperature (on the order of 150,000,000° Celsius)
    • Sufficient plasma particle density (to increase the likelihood that collisions do occur)
    • Sufficient confinement time (to hold the plasma, which has a propensity to expand, within a defined volume).
  • Nuclear fusion can be used to create clean source of energy and also the mechanism to create a nuclear bomb.

 Working process of EAST reactor-

  • The EAST Tokamak device is designed to replicate the nuclear fusion process carried out by the sun and stars.
  • For nuclear fusion to occur, tremendous heat and pressure are applied on hydrogen atoms so that they fuse together. The nuclei of deuterium and tritium — both found in hydrogen — are made to fuse together to create a helium nucleus, a neutron along with a whole lot of energy.
  • Fuel is heated to temperatures of over 150 million degrees C so that it forms a hot plasma “soup” of subatomic particles. With the help of a strong magnetic field, the plasma is kept away from the walls of the reactor to ensure it does not cool down and lose its potential to generate large amounts of energy. The plasma is confined for long durations for fusion to take place.

What China has achieved in the current experiment?

  • It has achieved a temperature of 16 crore degrees Celsius and sustained the temperature for about 100 seconds. This temperature is more than 10 times as achieved in the Sun.
  • The next goal for the Chinese scientists behind the experimental reactor is to maintain the high temperature for a long period of time. China aims to start building fusion reactor in next 5 years and start generating power by around 2040.
  • However, China is not the only country that has achieved high plasma temperatures. In 2020, South Korea’s KSTAR reactor set a new record by maintaining a plasma temperature of over 100 million degrees Celsius for 20 seconds.

Potential benefits of Artificial Sun-

The achievement of high temperature and increasing its stability inside a laboratory is touted as the next big event in development of energy and understanding space phenomenon. It has the following potential benefits-

  • Alternative source of energy- The energy created through nuclear fusion is cheap, carbon free and sustainable to meet the needs of mankind.
  • Achieving ‘net zero’ emissions- As fossil fuels are the main source of energy across the world, nuclear fusion promises an alternative source of energy which can help achieve ‘net zero’ emissions.
  • Cheap source of energy- If the energy produced during nuclear fusion is utilized fully; it will require only tiny amounts of fuel and create virtually no radioactive waste.
  • Understanding mechanism of stars- As the process of nuclear fusion is also used in the formation and sustenance of stars including Sun, it can help in better understanding of cosmic phenomenon.

Wrapping Up

Scientists are replicating the process of nuclear fusion for the benefit of mankind. The recent achievements in this direction not only provides hope but will also lead to better financing and global cooperation thus leading to growth of knowledge.

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