Five questions that answer you: Does China’s artificial sun herald the end of the world?
Recently, the “artificial sun of China” caused intense controversy after the official news agency of the People’s Republic of China (Xinhua) announced, during the first week of January, that the Chinese nuclear fusion reactor “East” had maintained a temperature of about 70 million degrees Celsius for 1056 seconds, which is five times more than the temperature in the sun’s core! In this report, you find five questions that answer you: Does China’s industrial sun herald the end of the world?
It seems that China’s reputation as a source of epidemics and problems, especially after the “Covid-19” pandemic that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has given many a fanciful, and at the same time terrifying, idea of anything coming from Beijing. Recently, the “China industrial sun” has caused intense controversy, not without falsehood and conspiracy theories, especially after (1) the official news agency of the People’s Republic of China (Xinhua) announced, during the first week of January, that the nuclear fusion reactor The Chinese “East” (EAST) has maintained a temperature of 70 million degrees Celsius for 1056 seconds, which is five times more than the temperature in the sun’s core!
Why is it called the artificial sun?
Because of the intense pressure in the sun’s core, the temperature rises sharply to about 15 million degrees Celsius, and the substance turns into its plasmonic state, which is the state in which electrons are dislodged from the atom to swim freely in a hot soup, here the situation is suitable for a nuclear fusion, which means that the heat is forced The nuclei of hydrogen atoms to “fuse” (2) together to make helium, and in the process a huge amount of energy is released, which gives the sun its capabilities as a star.
We know that an atom, any atom, is made up of electrons revolving around a nucleus, and the nucleus in turn contains other particles, namely protons and neutrons. The “atomic number” is the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom, which determines the nature of the element. Hydrogen’s nucleus contains one proton, helium 2, lithium 3, carbon 6, oxygen 8, chlorine 17, and so on. The reaction in which hydrogen is transformed into helium is of course very complex, but the idea is that nuclear fusion fuses two nuclei of two atoms together, so their protons meet, thus increasing the number of protons of the element and turning into another element.
This is also what happens inside the East reactor or the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak, where atoms of hydrogen isotopes (deuterium and tritium) are fused together to make helium, so it is called the artificial sun.
To cause nuclear fusion somewhere other than the star’s interior, scientists must circumvent those extremely high temperatures, which are more difficult to maintain, as superconducting electromagnets (cooled with liquid helium) are used to confine the plasma in a ring with a huge temperature. These magnets also stabilize the plasma so that it does not even come into contact with the walls of the reactor, because if that happened, with that temperature it would immediately penetrate the walls of the reactor, and nuclear fusion would stop.
Is it a one-of-a-kind experience?
No, of course, there are a lot of experiments that follow this mechanism around the world, in fact, the secret of the spread of the news coming from China is that “East” broke the previous record, which was set by the French reactor “Tori Supra Tokamak” in 2003, where the plasma remained at temperatures Similar heat for 390 seconds.
The first nuclear fusion experiments began in the 1930s, and by the mid-1950s nuclear fusion machines were operating in the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany and Japan. The first official achievement in this regard came from the Soviet Union in 1968, where researchers were able to achieve a degree of stability in temperatures for a very short but unprecedented time. Since then, major advances in nuclear fusion research have led to a thousands-fold advance in the time that can be spent keeping plasmas stable. In fact, some scientists compare the accelerating rates of development in computer science (which are subject to what’s called Moore’s Law) with the rates of development in nuclear fusion technologies.
Currently, nuclear and plasma fusion physics research is conducted in more than 50 countries, and more than 100 nuclear fusion experiments have been conducted. In the Arab world, there are two experimental tokamak-type reactors (4), the first is “Egyptator” in Egypt, and the second is “Lipitor” in the State of Libya, noting that not a single experiment in the whole world has yet been able to reach the limit of energy production from fusion reactions Moreover, the experiences in the two Arab countries are still at a completely elementary level.
Why is China spending a trillion dollars on this experiment?
The reason nuclear fusion generates so much energy is that the new element produced by fusion weighs less than the sum of its parts. This tiny fraction of the lost matter is converted into energy according to Albert Einstein’s famous formula (E = mc 2).
The letter “E” stands for energy, while the letter “m” stands for mass, and the symbol “c” represents the square of the speed of light, which is a very large number, so we can, for example, convert a few grams of matter into more than a trillion joules of energy, and this is a quantum Huge ones, it is roughly the energy needed by one person in a developed country for sixty years!
Nuclear fusion releases nearly four million times the energy produced by chemical reactions that occur during the combustion of coal, oil or gas, and four times the energy produced by nuclear fission reactions. In addition, nuclear fusion fuel is widely available and almost inexhaustible, because it can be Deuterium is distilled from all forms of water (sea water, for example), while tritium is produced during the nuclear fusion reaction itself due to an interaction with lithium, so the use of nuclear fusion energy – if it succeeds one day – may significantly reduce global electricity prices.
Since the 1930s, scientists have been able to start nuclear fusion in uncontrollable ways (as in the case of hydrogen bombs), but to stabilize nuclear fusion in laboratories requires an enormous amount of energy than is produced from the reaction.
Could the reactor explode or leak radioactive materials?
Safety standards in this type of experiment are very high (5), simply because nuclear fusion does not use fissile materials such as uranium and plutonium, tritium is not fissile material and is not fissionable, and there are no enriched materials in nuclear fusion reactors that can be used to make nuclear weapons.
In addition, this type of reaction does not allow the occurrence of nuclear accidents of the type “Fukushima” (the leak accident in 2011), because in the event of any disturbance, the plasma cools within seconds and the reaction stops completely, and there is no risk of a chain reaction, on the part of Another, fusion reactors do not produce high activity and long-lived nuclear waste.
Of course, no harmful toxins such as carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases can be emitted from fusion reactions into the atmosphere. The main byproduct of this type of reaction is helium, which is an inert, non-toxic gas. Ultimately, even in a putative “worst-case scenario”, such as a reactor fire, the evacuation of nearby residents would not be necessary.
What is the future of these experiences?
The EAST reactor is being used to test technologies that will in turn be used in a larger reactor called ITER, which means “the way” in Latin, and is the world’s largest nuclear project in which 35 countries (all EU countries with the UK and China cooperate) India and the United States). This reactor contains the world’s most powerful magnets, 280,000 times as strong as Earth’s magnetic field. This fusion reactor is expected to become operational in 2025. (6)
Nuclear fusion is a technology that can safely provide a huge and steady stream of electricity. Arthur Stanley Eddington, the famous British mathematician and physicist, once said: “Sometimes we dream that humanity will one day reach the point where it can extract this kind of energy and use it for its service, It’s an inexhaustible supply. There’s enough of it in the sun to maintain its heat production for 15 billion years,” but will we ever get there?
Despite everything that scientists have accomplished within the energy range of nuclear fusion, everything we have achieved does not exceed the limit of experimental ranges. We have not yet been able to reach the moment when the energy output of the fusion reaction is greater than the energy consumed to create it in the first place, and we also need a longer period During which the plasma stabilizes during the reaction. Despite this, there is a lot of hope, as it is believed (7) that by 2040 some countries of the world will begin to exploit the energy of nuclear fusion to supply electricity to their cities.