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What could China’s Artificial Sun Mean for the World?

by Abhinav Chaturvedi Over the years, China has been rebooting itself in terms of technological advancement and economic reforms and, slowly and steadily, has climbed the ladder towards a new world order. As the country begins to outpace the U.S as the leading global economic power, it has developed cybersecurity laws (2017) to protect the […]

The Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak is known as an "artificial sun" (image credit= Wikimedia)

by Abhinav Chaturvedi

Over the years, China has been rebooting itself in terms of technological advancement and economic reforms and, slowly and steadily, has climbed the ladder towards a new world order. As the country begins to outpace the U.S as the leading global economic power, it has developed cybersecurity laws (2017) to protect the welfare of its investors and become a mega-giant in the tech-innovation industry. Now, China has successfully given birth to an “artificial sun” built through a nuclear fusion reactor.

The Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), known as an “artificial sun”, is the Chinese government’s brainchild and has cost them more than £700bn since its inception.

In an article in The Independent, Gong Xianzu, a researcher at the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was quoted as saying that “the recent operation lays a solid scientific and experimental foundation towards the running of a fusion reactor.” The project is supposed to complete by 2025.

By fusing hydrogen atoms to make helium under extremely high pressures and temperatures, so-called main-sequence stars are able to convert matter into light and heat, generating enormous amounts of energy without producing greenhouse gases or long-lasting radioactive waste. This makes it by far one of the most impressive innovations in recent years.

Technical sketch of EAST

China has already signed a collaboration with more than 35 countries and blocs, including the US, UK, EU, and India. There is going to be a challenging move to get a nod from the rest 166 countries out of the 193 members of the UN though.

This has led several public and private firms from South Korea and the US to build their own reactor plants to disrupt the market.

In 2020, Korea began a Tokamak Advanced Research project to set an ‘artificial sun’, setting a world record of 20-sec-long operation at 100 million degrees.

In the UK, five sites have been pitched for the first prototype fusion energy plant, with the final decision on zeroing down to Ardeer in North Ayrshire, Goole in Yorkshire, Moorside in Cumbria, Ratcliffe-on-Soar in Nottinghamshire, and Severn Edge in Gloucestershire.

India is not far behind in the race. After building its first tokamak ‘Aditya’ in the 1980s, India has made remarkable progress in fusion research, operating an advanced Steady State Superconducting Tokamak (SST) which overcomes the ‘on-off’ nature of conventional tokamaks in heating plasm.

With all said and done, though, not everything is as good as it seems. The projects have drawn severe criticisms. The hydrogen isotope atoms collide and fuse together to produce helium, but in the process, like the Sun, create an enormous amount of waste heat.

Physicist Daniel Jassaby, who worked at the Princeton Plasma Lab, quoted in The Sun, said that the fusion reactor would be “far from perfect and in some ways close to the opposite”. He added that nuclear fusion could lead to the “production of large masses of radioactive waste and serious radiation damage to reactor components”.

“It is also clear that many countries that can develop this technology, are potential windfalls and landslide sites in terms of the reduced vulnerability that comes with it”, he concluded.

Whether artificial suns are a promising advance or a fatal menace is yet to be seen. Xi Jinping’s government has an instrumental and responsible role to execute, as this could be a serious business that could affect the world at large, implicating what the world has endured since the coronavirus pandemic.

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