One of the biggest problems in the 21st century is the energy problem. How long can our existing energy sources last? How sustainable are those energy sources? Not only do we owe our next generation an answer, we also owe it to ourselves to make our environment more sustainable and pleasant.
The chief cause of our energy problem is fossil fuels. It’s not inexhaustible, it is depleting fast. Over one of the side products of burning fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is also the chief culprit that’s accelerating global warming, making our weather more unpredictable and causing extreme weather conditions such as tornadoes and hurricanes.
By 2050, all 420 nuclear plants operating today must be replaced. We’re not on a path to get there. In addition, disaster like Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011 made public scared regarding nuclear.
The energy problem is even more acute in developing countries like China as it is quickly industrializing, and energy is the backbone of its growth. In order to solve that problem. China has now started building an artificial sun to tackle its energy crisis.
And it’s projected to finish in 2021. China has already built one last year, and achieved some initial success.
Meet the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak EAST for short. EAST is a fusion reactor in the Hefei province in China.And now it can reach temperatures over six times hotter than the sun.
Let’s look at what’s happening inside fusion occurs when two lightweight atoms combined into a single larger one, releasing energy in the process. It sounds simple enough, but it’s not easy to pull off. That’s because those two atoms share a positive charge.
Just like two opposing magnets, those positive atoms repel each other. stars like our Sun have a great way of overcoming this repulsion. Their massive size, it creates a tremendous amount of pressure in their core. Atoms are forced closer together, making them more likely to collide.
There is just one problem, we don’t have the technology to recreate that kind of pressure on Earth. But luckily, there is another way, you can also generate fusion with extreme temperatures.
That’s exactly what devices like EAST do. The higher the temperature, the faster the atoms move around, and the more likely they are to collide. But it quickly becomes a balancing act.
If the temperature is too hot, the atoms move too fast and they zip right past each other. If it’s too cold, the atoms won’t move fast enough.
The ideal temperature to generate fusion is around 100 million degrees Celsius. That’s more than six times hotter than our Sun’s core. Only a few fusion experiments in the world have surpassed this milestone.
The latest one was EAST, it sustained nuclear fusion for about 10 seconds before shutting down. And while it was a breakthrough for EAST, it’s a long way from generating Sustainable Energy for people of Earth. And that’s the endgame. EAST is a tiny reactor.
It’s not meant to be a full-fledged power plant. It’s an experiment. And right now, its job is to help us design more effective fusion technology that could one day power entire cities
But this is simply the first step. Scientists in China have recently started building a second artificial sun, planning to achieve a temperature of around 200 million Celsius and longer time of discharge.
They’re planning to complete another full-scale industrial prototype by 2035. Nuclear fusion is hard. I was already dreaming about it in sci fi novels of Isaac Asimov. No research group or company has ever been able to reach the so-called breakeven points, at which the energy released from a fusion reaction is greater than the energy required to heat the plasma used in the reaction.