Have you ever thought about the heat that the Sun gives off? That heat which, coming to us from an average distance of about 150 million kilometers, is strong enough to allow life on Earth. Perhaps something unimaginable for us mere humans, perhaps a little less for scientists. And they, in China, managed to overcome the heat produced by our star. Yes, on Earth it has now been possible to beat, indeed outclass, the temperature that is believed to be recorded on the Sun. Ten times more. Thanks to an “artificial sun”. According to reports from the Chinese state news agency Global Times, the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) fusion reactor, a Tokamak reactor operating in the city of Hefei, has set what is already considered to be the new record for the highest temperature. hotter than ever artificially reached on Earth for a relatively long time: 120 million degrees Celsius, a temperature that the reactor’s plasma held for 101 seconds. Moreover, according to the release, the same reactor, thanks to a powerful magnetic field that it uses to melt hot plasma, has managed to maintain a temperature of 160 million degrees Celsius for 20 seconds. It is a much higher temperature than that of the Sun’s core which can reach a level of only 15 million degrees Celsius.
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Records beaten – The result broke a previous record of holding the plasma temperature at 100 million degrees Celsius for 100 seconds. By the end of 2020, South Korea had hit 100 million degrees for 20 seconds. According to Li Miao, director of the physics department at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, this achievement is a milestone in achieving the goal of keeping the temperature at a stable level for a long time. The Tokamak device is located at the Hefei Institutes of Physical Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It is designed to replicate the nuclear fusion process, which occurs naturally in the sun and stars, and to provide nearly infinite clean energy through controlled nuclear fusion. The device in question was built towards the end of 2019 and was first turned on in December 2020. Currently nuclear fission is used in land-based power plants, a much more dangerous and much less fruitful method in terms of energy. For this reason, the ignition of China’s “Artificial Sun” nuclear reactor – called HL-2M Tokamak – was considered the beginning of a new era.
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Clean energy – The energy generated by nuclear fusion is the most reliable and cleanest energy, explained Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, adding that if the technology can be applied commercially, it will have enormous economic benefits. However, Lin cautioned that because the technology is still experimental, it still takes at least 30 years for it to become usable outside the lab. The next goal, according to Li Miao, director of the physics department at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, could be to achieve a constant temperature for a week. «The breakthrough is significant progress and the ultimate goal should be to keep the temperature at a stable level for an ever longer time».
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Global experiment – The EAST experiment is part of the framework of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the largest nuclear fusion research project in the world based in France, which is expected to be completed in 2025. IT is a major global science project second only to the International Space Station in size, and was jointly built by China, the EU, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States. Its success is significant for the future peaceful use of international merger. China dedicates about 9% of its research and development to this project. Chinese scientists have been working on developing smaller versions of the nuclear fusion reactor since 2006. «The development of nuclear fusion energy is not only a way to solve China’s strategic energy needs, but also has great significance for the future sustainable development of China’s energy and national economy.», said the People’s Daily, spokesman for the ruling Communist Party.
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Plasma is melted – The Chinese “artificial sun” allows you to melt the plasma, that is the ionized gas made up of a set of electrons and ions (whose electric charge is zero), producing an incredible temperature. Plasma is considered the fourth state of matter (in addition to solid, liquid and gas) and is the “matter” of which lightning, northern lights and stars are made. If scientists could figure out how to harness the energy produced by nuclear fusion, it could provide an almost unlimited source of clean energy. Fusion is in fact considered the Holy Grail of energy and is what powers our sun, which burns at around 15 million degrees Celsius. It combines atomic nuclei to create huge amounts of energy, the opposite of the fission process used in atomic weapons and nuclear power plants, which splits them into fragments. Unlike fission, fusion does not emit greenhouse gases and carries less risk of accidents or theft of atomic material. But achieving the merger is extremely difficult and prohibitive, with the total cost of ITER estimated at around € 19 billion). This is because making hydrogen isotope atoms collide and fuse to produce helium, in the same way the Sun creates energy, produces an enormous amount of waste heat. However, British scientists last month announced they had found a way to treat these exhaust gases, cooling them from 150 million degrees Celsius to a few hundred degrees – temperatures similar to a car’s engine. This drastically reduces the wear of the reactor in which the fusion takes place. Scientists from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) in Culham, Oxfordshire, used a £ 55 million experimental fusion reactor called the MAST Upgrade. Its heart is Tokamak, which uses a powerful magnetic field to confine hydrogen isotopes to a spherical shape, similar to an apple from the core, as they are heated by microwaves in a plasma to produce fusion. The new divert means that the long-promised nuclear fusion could be commercially viable in about 20 years, as the UKAEA plans to build an enlarged version by 2040.
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