China is now one step closer to developing an “artificial sun” after an experimental reactor maintained a scorching 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.
The incredible result could represent another stage towards creating atomic fusion energy, seen by many people as the holy grail of clean energy as the materials it requires are abundant.
The breakthrough was announced by Gong Xianzu, who was in charge of the experiment at the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ASIPP).
The experiment itself was conducted in Hefeu, capital of China’s Anhui Province in the east of the country.
Director of ASIPP Song Yuntao said:
“It’s a huge achievement in China’s physics and engineering fields. The experiment’s success lays the foundation for China to build its own nuclear fusion energy station.”
Despite the incredible feat of 120 million degrees, a temperature of 160 million degrees was also achieved, though this was only sustained for 20 seconds.
If the energy is to become feasible as a reliable power source, it will need to be sustained for a longer period of time.
Nuclear power plants currently use fission, which means the atom is split and releases energy which is harnessed to drive generators.
In fusion however, two lighter nuclei combine together to produce a heavier atom, and release huge amounts of energy while doing so.
In fact, fusion reactions could potentially release four times more energy than fission.
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Fusion does not produce CO2 emissions or the long-lived radioactive waste that fission creates. It is also much more difficult for a fusion reactor to meltdown, unlike with fission.
All of these factors combine to make it a much safer form of producing energy both in the process and the environmental impact.
If successfully developed and successfully introduced into electrical grids, fusion could provide a solution to humanity’s dependance on fossil fuels for energy.