Infinite energy from nuclear fusion has taken another step closer to reality thanks to China’s Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST). During the experimental period of four months, the ‘Chinese artificial sun’ has reached a core plasma temperature of over 100 million degrees Celsius. This temperature is more than six times the interior of the Sun. This enables the study of various aspects of practical nuclear fusion during the experimentation period.
The operation began in 2006, and EAST was located at the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CASHIPS). It is also billed as an open test facility for conducting steady-state operations and ITER-related physics research by both Chinese and international students. Like other fusion experiments, the goal is to produce a practical nuclear fusion power reactor. EAST is a tokamak reactor which consists of metal torus or doughnut that is exhausted to a hard vacuum and then injected with hydrogen atoms.
These atoms are heated by different methods to create a plasma which is then compressed using a series of powerful superconducting magnets. The plasma gets so hot and compressed that the conditions inside the reactor mimic those which are found inside the Sun and causes hydrogen atoms to fuse. This releases a tremendous amount of energy. Scientists are hoping to build a reactor where the fusion reaction is self-sustaining, and the reactor generates more energy than it consumes.
EAST produced the breakthrough temperatures and densities for around 10 seconds by combining four different heating methods to create the plasma and spark the fusion process. The methods were lower hybrid wave heating, electron cyclotron wave heating, ion cyclotron resonance heating, and neutral beam ion heating. The purpose was not to peg the meter but to study how to maintain the plasma stability and equilibrium, to confine and transport it, and how the plasma wall interacts with energetic particles. EAST is also used as a demonstrator of how to use radio frequency wave-dominant heating, maintain a high degree of plasma confinement with a high degree of purity, maintain magnetohydrodynamic stability, and how to exhaust the heat using a water-cooled tungsten diverter.
CASHIPS says that EAST is being used to explore how to maintain electron temperatures over 100 million degrees for an extended period to further knowledge and aid the development of advanced reactors like the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) which was built in France. The Chinese Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) and the proposed DEMO (DEMOnstration Power Station). Achieving temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius within 10 seconds proves that it is possible to reach these temperatures for nuclear fusion.