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China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ EAST

China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ EAST

Why in news?

  • Recently, China’s Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) achieved a peak temperature of 288 million degrees Fahrenheit, which is over ten times hotter than the sun.
  • China is not the only country that has achieved high plasma temperatures. In 2020, South Korea’s KSTAR (Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research) reactor set a new record by maintaining a plasma temperature of over 100 million degrees Celsius for 20 seconds.

About Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) 

  • The mission mimics the energy generation process of the sun.
  • The reactor consists of an advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device located in Hefei, China.
  • It is one of three major domestic tokamaks that are presently being operated across the country.
  • The EAST project is part of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) facility, which will become the world’s largest nuclear fusion reactor when it becomes operational in 2035.

Working of EAST

  • It is based on the Nuclear Fusion Process that is carried out by the Sun and the Stars.
  • For nuclear fusion to occur, tremendous heat and pressure are applied on hydrogen atoms so that they fuse together. The nuclei of deuterium and tritium – both found in hydrogen – are made to fuse together to create a helium nucleus, a neutron along with a whole lot of energy.
  • The gaseous hydrogen fuel is heated to temperatures of over 150 million degrees Celsius so that it forms a hot plasma (electrically charged gas) of subatomic particles.
  • With the help of a strong magnetic field, the plasma is kept away from the walls of the reactor to ensure it does not cool down and lose its potential to generate large amounts of energy. The plasma is confined for long durations for fusion to take place.                  China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ EAST

Significance

  • The development of nuclear fusion energy would lead to solving China’s energy requirements.
  • It would also provide for the future sustainable development of China’s energy and national economy boosting.
  • The Chinese Energy Agency’s aim is to develop a reliable form of nuclear fusion based on the concept
  • Fusion is considered prohibitively expensive, but this testing by China would help the researchers in their search for ways to reduce costs.          China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ EAST

Nuclear fusion

  • For a nuclear fusion reaction to occur, it is necessary to bring two nuclei so close that nuclear forces become active and glue the nuclei together.              China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ EAST
  • Nuclear forces are small-distance forces and have to act against the electrostatic forces where positively charged nuclei repel each other.          China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ EAST
  • This is the reason nuclear fusion reactions occur mostly in high density, high-temperature environment (millions of degree Celsius) which is practically very difficult to achieve under laboratory conditions.

Challenges with Nuclear Fusion in Lab

  • When two atoms fuse, they release an enormous amount of energy. On Earth, keeping it under control so it does not explode remains a serious challenge.
  • The hot gas formed by fusing atoms burns or melts everything that comes in contact.
  • The nuclear reaction also generates a large number of high-speed particles that can in turn damage buildings or human tissue if not properly contained.

Nuclear fusion vs Nuclear fission

  • While fission is an easier process to carry out, it generates far more nuclear waste.
  • Unlike fission, fusion also does not emit greenhouse gases and is considered a safer process with lower risk of accidents.                  China’s ‘Artificial Sun’ EAST
  • Once mastered, nuclear fusion could potentially provide unlimited clean energy and very low costs.

 

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