A doughnut-shaped object in a building in China has blazed into life - and it will reach temperatures hotter than the sun. Advocates for fusion power believe that the technology holds the promise of unlimited clean energy.
The HL-2M reactor is the most advanced nuclear fusion device in China and can reach temperatures of over 150 million degrees Celsius, according to the People’s Daily. The reactor went into operation on Friday and achieved its first plasma discharge, mimicking reactions that happen inside the sun. Every nuclear reactor currently operating on Earth is a fission reactor - using energy released when heavy atoms such as uranium decay into smaller atoms, a process similar to the one used in the first nuclear weapons.
A fusion reactor works in the opposite way, harvesting the energy released when two smaller atoms join together, releasing tiny, fast-moving particles smaller than atoms. But to do so, companies need to find a way to harvest energy from a plasma held at millions of degrees Celsius - something that has defied researchers for decades.
The process produces virtually no waste, making it a climate friendly, safe, and reliable source of near unlimited power - if we can get it to work. And there's no shortage of effort trying to achieve it.
Indeed, ITER - the world’s largest nuclear fusion project - reached a construction milestone in August (OGN - The Dream of Nuclear Fusion) as the final components of the reactor arrived on the build site in southeastern France. The $25 billion endeavor, which aims to produce sustainable fusion energy on a commercial scale, is financed by seven of the world’s largest energy powerhouses: the European Union, United Kingdom China, India, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
Despite numerous delays over the years, ITER is aiming to achieve full plasma generation by 2030. While this may be consistent with a common adage in the power industry: “Fusion power is always just 10 years away,” progress in harnessing fusion is unquestionable, and, if commercial fusion is achieved, the current generation is likely to see a total revolution in energy in their lifetimes.