“China’s Artificial Sun Just Smashed a Fusion World Record”

“China’s “artificial sun” tokamak has sustained a plasma reaction for a whopping 101 seconds at 120 million degrees Celsius, setting new records in the field of nuclear fusion. The breakthrough could pave the way for a carbon-neutral energy future.

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EAST (Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak), or HT-7U, is a custom-built fusion reactor that has operated in different phases since 2006. Like many of the world’s tokamak experiments, EAST has reached fusion before. As a refresher, inside the donut-shaped (or, sometimes, more spherical) containment of a tokamak, sun-hot plasma swirls in a circle that’s held in place by supercooled electromagnets.

This magnetic field is the only thing floating between 360-million-degree plasma and a bunch of human-made materials that obviously can’t sustain that temperature. The plasma results from smashing different nuclei together, fusing them rather than splitting them.

This requires a huge energy investment, which critics say means fusion will never really get off the ground. And so far, all tokamaks work for just a scant few seconds at lower temperatures before something goes wrong.”

Comment: Still 20 years off?

https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/a36630528/china-artificial-sun-breaks-fusion-world-record/

Nuclear Fusion Milestone: Reactor Makes Fusion Viable by 2030 (popularmechanics.com)

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14 Responses to “China’s Artificial Sun Just Smashed a Fusion World Record”

  1. TTG says:

    The first version of this article I saw was accompanied by a short video clip of a massive fireball rising slowly in the night sky. This appeared to be something astonishing. However, the video was of a night rocket launch, not an artificial sun. Pretty slick piece of journalistic sleight of hand.

    Still, 101 seconds is an eternity in this kind of physics. I do think someone will achieve a sustainable fusion reaction fairly soon, within 10 to 20 years at most. The trick may be siphoning off enough power from that contained fusion to sustain the containment. Right now, with the present approach, fusion is a massive energy consumer rather than an energy producer.

  2. Babeltuap says:

    Which happens first. Manipulating gravity waves or a viable fusion reactor? Both will take enormous breakthroughs in science but I’d entertain 20 years.

  3. Joe100 says:

    NET energy demonstration is probably realistic in less than twenty years. The current view is that this will be accomplished by a Tokamak, probably Commonwealth Fusion that is building off decades of MIT’s fusion program. However, tokamaks (if they work) will likely be be large expensive “machines” and could face some significant materials supply chain issues.

    The most likely cost-effective fusion will probably be in the “MIF” space between magnetic and inertial confinement – LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NNSA project). Some example MIF companies include:

    Helion, Hyperjet, General Fusion, ZAP Energy, Tri-Alpha Energy and Lawrenceville
    Plasma Physics

    These MIF companies are taking radically different approaches to fusion and several made significant progress in ARPAe’s “ALPHA” program a couple of years ago. A review of their websites will typically show that if these fusion “machines” work they will likely cost much less than tokamaks. Helion’s machine is one good example to look at.

    One fusion constraint is that most public funding globally “down selected” to invest in tokamaks decades ago and thus very little public support has been made in the MIF space.

  4. walrus says:

    You had better hope its the USA that makes fusion commercially viable and not China or Russia for what to me are obvious strategic reasons.

    My concern is that a bit of new physics may be involved that is not likely to be discovered in the West because we are stuck in the “Big Bang” cosmology era which has every symptom of being hopelessly wrong. Wrong? Undoubtedly because it requires “dark energy’ and “Dark matter” (aka Faerie dust) to account for what we are now seeing. the Webb Telescope will undoubtedly make the dichotomy between observation and big bang theory even worse.

    Even Hubble qualified his conclusion by suggesting that the DeSitter effect may explain his observations and that the universe was not expanding. Certain scientists believe that DeSitter effect is real but DeSitter was confused about the maths. In effect ‘time’ is not the same everywhere in the universe, it is instead a local variable, orthogonal to space. That leaves the way open for a restating of the Einstein field equations in interesting ways that may lead to subatomic revelations.

    • Outrage Beyond says:

      re:

      “You had better hope its the USA that makes fusion commercially viable and not China or Russia for what to me are obvious strategic reasons.”

      No matter who makes it work first, the also-rans will be close behind and are likely to catch up quickly. Just look back to the history of nuclear weapons development for a somewhat comparable example. Once it’s known that it can be done, it’s more likely than not there will be enough clues in the open literature for everyone else to catch on to the special sauce.

    • zmajcek says:

      Yes, a paradigm shift and new advancements in physics are needed.
      We are still milking 19th/early 20th century theories. That can only take us so far.

  5. Rob Waddell says:

    All..

    Why not a Kennedy style ‘…achieve a working fusion power station within the decade..” proclamation. The USA has the largest intellectual, manufacturing and financial capacity in the world and can easily do this. IT might take a bit of cash/grants/guarantees/hard work etc.

    Take it off the massive military budget ($715B 2022) and achieve ‘Democracy through technology..’ throughout the world. This worked in July 20 1969 but IMO the results have been squandered since that glorious day. Perhaps the South African boy-wonder can play some part?

    RobW

    • Rick Merlotti says:

      Amen, Brother. Been advocating for an “Apollo Style Crash Project” since the 70’s. Call it the Prometheus Project and get ‘er done. Fusion is Humanity’s future. Be a shame if it became a geopolitical football.

    • Joe100 says:

      A”Kennedy Style” approach to accelerating US fusion probably would not be useful.

      Sufficient funding is in process of being made available for commercial demonstrations of fusion technology ready for demonstration.

      What is really needed is an effective federal program to support early exploration of “MIF” opportunities and then funding for ongoing programs to move such technologies up the technology readiness “ladder”. ARPAe’s (temporary) ALPHA program proved that small amounts of funding thoughtfully applied can help these technologies make great progress. The challenge here is more “bureaucratic” than financial as US DOE could not likely establish such an effective program. To fill this space would probably require something like DOD’s (permanent) DARPA program which could build on the current ARPAe program.

      However there is real competition for fusion energy from at least two areas: super hot rock geothermal (currently publicly “invisible”) and some innovative fission (also currently invisible) that was well developed in the 1950’s through the early 1970’s in the Soviet Union and by NASA. Both of these technologies are potentially quite economic and fairly broadly deployable. They will both move to demonstration faster than fusion. And aspects of the fission technology can be used in a superior nuclear thermal space propulsion (NTSP) technology that could support a three month journey to Mars..*+9

      So there are more “tools” evolving in the zero-carbon energy “tool kit” than one sees in the media today..

  6. zmajcek says:

    They need to go back to the drawing board. Maybe give up fusion altogether and look for alternatives. Too complicated, too accident prone. Artificial Sun on Earth ? Wouldn’t want to live near that thing.

  7. ISL says:

    About 30 years off, maybe; for commercial viability*; however, I think within 10 years it will go from science to engineering and then a realistic timeline can be constructed (as for the Moon program, which built on decades of rocket science).

    *Note, there can be space and military applications were commercially viable is not the criteria.

    “If we knew what we were doing it wouldn’t be research.”

  8. Christian J. Chuba says:

    I’ll repeat my friend’s cynical joke from 1990, ‘we are 10yrs from nuclear fusion and we will be saying this again this again in 10yrs from now’.

    Being less cynical, I am excited about the Parker Solar probe because I am a big fan of getting a good look at something that already works. I bet that we will find something we did not expect like, ‘hmm … why is there a cold spot or type of radiation here?’ It will be good as long as we let the data speak to us instead of fitting it into a theory we like.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parker_Solar_Probe#Mission

  9. Leith says:

    China has the money to invest in this. Mainly due to our dependence on Chinese manufactured products.

    But there is no reason why we can’t do the same. Even the venture capitalists believe. The CFS/MIT SPARC tokamak to be built at the old Fort Devens has raised about 2B in private funding. It is a matter of political will to get Congress to put in some bucks, but don’t expect that to happen. Even the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, the tokamak being built in southern France, is only projected to cost 22B Euros. And although some claim 65B Euros is more likely that figure is still reachable.

    But sun-in-a-bottle at 100s of millions of degrees sounds a bit scary. So even though I’m not a Luddite, I’ll join the NIMBY crowd if they try to build one near here.

  10. Barbara Ann says:

    If our civilization is still around in 20 years I see no reason why fusion power shouldn’t be a reality. However, even when it arrives it may take at least as long before the dread words “nuclear power” can be rehabilitated. The biggest barrier to realizing the most bountiful and safest* power source ever devised may not be science, it may be the superstitions of tree hugging greenies.

    *To the folk here concerned about the safety of tokamaks, ITER has a helpful explainer:

    “A Fukushima-type nuclear accident is not possible in a tokamak fusion device. It is difficult enough to reach and maintain the precise conditions necessary for fusion—if any disturbance occurs, the plasma cools within seconds and the reaction stops. The quantity of fuel present in the vessel at any one time is enough for a few seconds only and there is no risk of a chain reaction”

    https://www.iter.org/sci/Fusion

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