China claims fusion breakthrough

9 February 2016

Scientists at China's Institute of Plasma Physics in Hefei Jiangsu province, reported on 3 February that experiments on their Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) facility had successfully created a sustained hydrogen plasma for a record 102 seconds, according to the South China Morning Post.

The experiment required the team to solve a number of scientific and engineering problems, such as the precise alignment of the magnets, and keeping the plasma particles and heat from escaping, the institute said. The plasma measured a temperature of 50m degrees Celsius, which is about half of what will be required for deuterium-tritium fusion. Plasma with higher temperatures have been achieved before (for example, by Princeton, in the late 1970s) but containment of the plasma has been in only the tens of seconds.

The previous week, German researchers at the Max Planck Institute's Wendelstein 7-X stellarator managed to achieve a plasma of 80m degrees Celsius, but only for a quarter of a second.

The goal of EAST is to reach 100m degrees in the plasma for 1000 seconds, with the aim of achieving an eventual steady-state operation, which will be required for commercial power production.These recent experimental results and all of the progress on EAST will be applied to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) under construction at Cadarache in France. The Chinese scientists also work closely with fusion researchers at General Atomics, and their DIII-D tokamak, in California.

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