China set the fusion reaction record on May 23rd by sustaining a temperature of 120 million degrees C (216 million degrees F) for 101 seconds; far hotter than the temperature of the sun.
The experiment took place at “EAST,” the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak in Hefei, China.
South Korea held the prior record achieving a 100 million degree C fusion reaction for 20 seconds in December.
If future fusion reactions can be controlled at a rate at which the energy produced exceeds the amount needed to sustain the reaction, humanity’s quest for clean, abundant, affordable energy will be achieved. Fusion power is emissions free (if that’s your thing).
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, “it is expected that fusion could meet humanity’s energy needs for millions of years. Fusion fuel is plentiful and easily accessible: deuterium can be extracted inexpensively from seawater, and tritium can be produced from naturally abundant lithium. Future fusion reactors will not produce high activity, long lived nuclear waste, and a meltdown at a fusion reactor is practically impossible.”
China’s reactor is a “Tokamak” designed to contain fusion’s incredible heat within an incredibly powerful magnetic field.
In 2019, CFACT met with scientists and engineers at the ITER, or International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, France. The ITER is an incredibly large Tokamak being constructed by an international consortium, which includes China, Europe and the U.S. The ITER is a marvel of technology, but has been slowed by cost overruns and bureaucracy, including a French demand to shield the reactor to the same standards as Fission reactors despite the absence of commensurate radiation.
China studied the ITER and constructed its own version much faster in Hefei.
Nuclear fission, the reaction which powers today’s reactors, involves splitting an atom’s heavy nucleus into two lighter ones. In the process massive energy is generated along with nuclear waste.
Fusion does the opposite. Fusion reactions join two lighter nuclei into one heavier, again generating massive energy, but with little waste.
Some doubt whether useful fusion will ever be achieved, while others see it as the energy that will power the future. It certainly offers far greater promise than intermittent, inefficient, huge footprint wind and solar.
Can fusion succeed? It seems there’s little harm from doing research to find out.
June 6, 2021