China switches on nuclear ‘artificial sun’ promising clean energy revolution

Chinese scientists have successfully activated their advanced experimental HL-2M Tokamak nuclear fusion reactor.

The team the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science even claim it operates at temperatures hotter than the sun.

The reactor, which duplicates the intense nuclear fusion reactions that take place at the heart of the sun, uses a powerful magnetic field to contain plasma heated to over 150million degrees Celsius.

These temperatures are the highest seen on Earth since the planet formed.

The experimental reactor has been dubbed an "artificial sun" because of its incredible heat and the power it produces.

Friday’s success represents an important milestone on a journey that began in 2006, when the reactor was first built.

"The development of nuclear fusion energy is not only a way to solve China's strategic energy needs, but also has great significance for the future sustainable development of China's energy and national economy," said the Chinese People's Daily.

While there are other fusion reactors in development around the world, Xu Min, director of the Hefei institute, says HL-2M is "the largest artificial sun, with the best parameters".

Nuclear fusion, if it could be produced at scale, could be the answer to mankind’s energy problem.

It doesn’t produce dangerous waste in the same way that current nuclear power stations do, using nuclear fission, and in the longer term it could drive spacecraft to incredible speeds in a way that sustainable technologies like wind and wave power never could.

But right now, achieving nuclear fusion is both difficult and expensive. The doughnut-shaped magnetic field has to reliably contain plasma hot enough to burn its way though any known material.

That alone demands a huge amount of power, and as yet the Chinese reactor – like its sister device in southern France – has yet to produce more energy than it needs to run itself.

But the Hefei team, along with the scientists working on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France, are optimistic that within the next five to ten years they will have the first operational true nuclear fusion reactor – opening a new chapter in energy generation.

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