China's $1 trillion 'artificial sun' fusion reactor just got five times hotter than the sun

China's "artificial sun," a tokamak reactor, has reached a temperature five times hotter than the sun. The image is courtesy of VCG.

China's "artificial sun" has set a new world record after super heating a loop of the sun's corona to temperatures five times hotter than the sun for more than 17 minutes.
The EAST nuclear fusion reactor had a temperature of 158 million degrees Fahrenheit (70 million degrees Celsius) for 1,056 seconds. The achievement brings scientists a small step closer to creating a source of clean energy.

The previous record was set by France's Tore Supra tokamak, where the fusion reactor's coiling loop remained at the same temperature for 395 seconds. In May 2021, EAST set a new record by running for 101 seconds at an unprecedented 216 million F (120 million C). The core of the sun is 27 million F (15 million C).

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The recent operation lays a solid scientific and experimental foundation towards the running of a fusion reactor, according to the experiment leader.
Nuclear fusion, the process by which stars burn, has been harnessed by scientists for more than 70 years. The main-sequence stars are able to convert matter into light and heat by using hydrogen atoms to make helium under high pressures and temperatures.

It is not easy to replicate the conditions found inside the hearts of stars. The most common fusion reactor design is the tokamak, which works by trapping positive and negatively charged free electrons inside a donut-shaped reactor chamber.

Keeping the turbulent and superheated coils of plasma in place long enough for nuclear fusion to happen has been a laborious process. Natan Yavlinsky designed the first tokamak in the 1960's, but no one has ever created an experimental reactor that is able to put out more energy than it takes in.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is how to handle a hot plasma. The fusion reactor has to operate at much lower pressures than where fusion naturally takes place inside the core of stars because it requires high temperatures. Finding a way to keep the fusion process from being ruined by the burning of the reactor walls is difficult, but cooking to temperatures hotter than the sun is relatively easy.

The East experiment will cost China more than $1 trillion by the time it ends in June, and it is being used to test out technologies for an even bigger fusion project.

The world's largest nuclear reactor is being built by 35 countries, including every state in the European Union, the U.K., China, India and the U.S. The fusion reactor will give scientists more insight into the practicalities of generating star power on Earth.

China plans to complete a new tokamak by the early 20th century and is conducting more of its own programs to develop nuclear fusion power.

The first viable fusion reactor could be finished in the United States as early as 2025, and a British company hopes to be able to generate electricity from fusion by the year 2030.

Tom contributed to the article.

Live Science published the original article.